Archives for category: History

Donald Trump somehow imagines that the nation–at least the white portion of the nation–shares his nostalgia for the Confederacy. He is prepared to fight to the bitter end to save statues of Robert E. Lee and others who rebelled against the United States of America and fought a war that cost more than 600,000 lives. He calls this our “great heritage.”

This is the same man who ridiculed Senator John McCain, who spent five years in a Vietnamese prison cell and was brutally beaten, yet refused the chance to go home early because he would not leave until his fellow Americans were freed. Trump said he was a “loser.” But he admires those who fought for states’ rights, dissolution of the union, and white supremacy.

The Boston Globe published this article about Trump’s allegiance to the Confederacy. Does MAGA mean “bring back the Confederacy”?:

WASHINGTON — Mississippi scrubbed the Confederate insignia from its state flag. Top Senate Republicans want to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. And on Wednesday, a crane lifted an enormous statue of Stonewall Jackson off its pedestal in Richmond, Va., the former capital of the Confederacy.

But while America begins to reckon with the racism of its history and its present, President Trump is defiantly defending that past.

As protesters and local governments around the country take down Confederate monuments and rethink the depiction of founding fathers who owned slaves, Trump has appointed himself their protector, tweeting seven times in a 24-hour span beginning Tuesday about attacks on statues and the nation’s “heritage.” He vowed to veto a defense bill if it strips Confederate officers’ names from military bases — a measure authored by Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren but also backed by key Republicans. And on Sunday, he retweeted a video that showed one of his supporters yelling “white power.” He took it down hours later after facing criticism but he did not apologize for the sentiment.

“It’s my hope that President Trump takes a step back and realizes this is 2020, not 1940 or 1950,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat who gave the order to remove the statue of Jackson and another Confederate officer from city property on Wednesday.

But a president who vowed to “Make America Great Again” has again focused his reelection campaign on the past — or at least one version of it. At a moment when the country is wrestling with difficult questions of race, he spent part of the week defending the honoring of Confederate generals and he will end it with an appearance Friday at Mount Rushmore, a monument that critics say has long promoted a sanitized, all-white story of American history.

“This is a battle to save the Heritage, History and Greatness of our country,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, echoing how he urged the mostly white crowd who came to see him in Tulsa last month to “save that beautiful heritage of ours.”

Trump swept into office in 2017 after a campaign that scapegoated Mexicans and Muslims and won over many white voters. Now, as polls show his support slipping with white people thanks in part to his handling of coronavirus, he’s framing civil rights protests as an “attack” on white Americans and the removal of Confederate symbols and vandalism of other statues as an erasure of their history.

“It appeals to people who believe that America is America because it’s white,” said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair who was the first Black man to hold that position. “So you talk about erasing ‘our heritage’ — you hear those words, what does that say to you? No one in this country talks like that except for racists.”

This Wall Street Journal article by Ted Mann tells a story of a fascinating discovery, the kind that makes historians swoon.

Two historians were debating the fate of the Lincoln Emancipation memorial in Washington, D.C. it depicts Lincoln standing beside a kneeling, nude slave who is breaking his chains. Then one discovered a letter written by Frederick Douglass that provided a solution agreeable to all.

WASHINGTON—It was a text-message debate that led Scott Sandage and Jonathan White to discover a vital American artifact last weekend: a long-forgotten letter showing how Frederick Douglass really felt about a statue of Abraham Lincoln and a slave.

Messrs. Sandage and White are history professors who have been on opposite sides of a dispute over the Emancipation Memorial near the U.S. Capitol, which depicts Lincoln in the act of freeing a kneeling Black man.

Mr. White, who teaches at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, wrote in a newspaper that the statue should be preserved, even while conceding in passing that Douglass disliked the design.

Mr. Sandage, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, considered the statue “visually unredeemable” because of its depiction of a Black man kneeling in a subservient position to Lincoln.

Both men sit on the board of the Abraham Lincoln Institute and had been debating whether the statue should remain or come down.

And so on the last Friday evening in June, sitting on the couch with his wife watching “Gilmore Girls,” Mr. White was texting back and forth with Mr. Sandage, pondering the alleged distaste for the statue by Douglass, who had dedicated it with a famous address in 1876.

The account of Douglass criticizing the statue at its unveiling came from a 1916 book that included the recollection of activist John W. Cromwell, who was in attendance.

Mr. White pointed out the account was secondhand from three decades later, and could be apocryphal. Mr. Sandage had thought Cromwell’s account had been corroborated and cited it in his own work in the 1990s. He went searching for a corroborating account.

Last Saturday morning, Mr. Sandage started searching Douglass’s name and the word “knee” in digitized newspaper archives at Newspapers.com. He found no corroborating accounts of the remark, but something better: published blurbs headlined “Frederick Douglass says” that referred to an 1876 letter from Douglass criticizing the monument.

After 20 minutes, and narrowing the search using Douglass’s flashiest adjective (“couchant”), Mr. Sandage uncovered Douglass’s letter itself.

[A letter to the editor of the National Republican newspaper in Washington from Frederick Douglass in 1876.
PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS]

Five days after the unveiling, in a letter to the editor of the National Republican newspaper in Washington, Douglass had critiqued the statue’s design and suggested how more dignified depictions of free Black people would improve the park.

“The negro here, though rising, is still on his knees and nude,” Douglass wrote. “What I want to see before I die is a monument representing the negro, not couchant on his knees like a four-footed animal, but erect on his feet like a man.”

Mr. Sandage said he didn’t at first realize the importance of his discovery, but alerted Mr. White and texted an image of the letter to David Blight, a Douglass biographer and history professor at Yale University.

Mr. Blight was “practically giddy,” Mr. Sandage said.

Mr. Blight in turn emailed Richard Fox, a Lincoln scholar at the University of Southern California, who hadn’t seen the letter either.

“This all happened on Saturday morning,” Mr. Fox said. “None of us knew until three days ago that there was any evidence in Douglass’s entire life that he had actually said these things, and then there it was.”

Mr. White and Mr. Sandage weren’t done. Their searches also uncovered an obituary for Charlotte Scott, the former slave whose $5 donation had kicked off the fundraising to pay for the monument on the day of Lincoln’s death.

The statue was paid for by donations from former slaves, including Black veterans of the Union Army, but the design was selected by the Western Sanitary Commission, a St. Louis charity run by white people, according to the National Park Service.

The commission selected the design by Thomas Ball, an American sculptor living in Trieste, Italy, after years of appeals failed to raise sufficient funds for a larger and more complex monument, historians said.

Messrs. White and Sandage also found a reference in the Washington Bee, a Black newspaper in the city, to “the Charlotte Scott Emancipation statue in Lincoln Park.”

Just like that, a document apparently unknown to Douglass’s biographers and not found in the orator’s papers at the Library of Congress had landed squarely in the middle of the debate that has swept the nation and the neighborhood around Lincoln Park where the statue stands.

Amid the Black Lives Matter Movement and the protests following the killing of George Floyd, momentum is gathering to remove or alter statues like the Emancipation Memorial, following successful calls to take down monuments of Confederate generals.

In Washington, a candidate for District Council, Marcus Goodwin, has gathered roughly 7,000 signatures on a petition to either remove or alter the Lincoln statue. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.’s nonvoting representative in Congress, has said she would introduce legislation to move the statue to a museum. And in Boston, a panel voted unanimously on Tuesday to take down a replica of the Emancipation statue.

Mr. Goodwin has said that concerns about the statue could be addressed by adding more Black figures to the statue that are in standing positions, including contemporaries of Lincoln like Douglass. It is a compromise that the newly discovered Douglass letter seems to anticipate.

Still others believe the existing monument should be moved, including Kirk Savage of the University of Pittsburgh, whose work includes “Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves,” a history of monuments erected after the Civil War.

“It is a distorting image,” Mr. Savage said. “It’s a white savior narrative that puts Lincoln in the position of a kind of saint, working a miracle cure on the enslaved population.”

If new additions to the memorial are done right, Mr. Sandage said, “the original statue would become an artifact and the new groupings around it would become the focus.”

Mr. White said that “people of good will are on both sides” of the issue. “If people had listened to [Douglass] it might have resolved it 144 years ago,” he said.

As for their discovery, Mr. Sandage credited the activists, whose demonstrations at the park had led to his debate with Mr. White.

“That’s how historians work,” he said. “We argue with each other and then go look again.”

Messrs. White and Sandage said the find helped them reach an agreement, which they proposed this week in an article for Smithsonian Magazine. Citing Douglass’s words, they argued that “no one monument could be made to tell the whole truth of any subject which it might be designed to illustrate.”

The historians suggest adding more statues—of Douglass and of Scott —and better explaining the story of Archer Alexander, who was the model for the slave figure. Mr. Alexander was the last man arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act, the Park Service says.

“If the statue is to stand there any longer, it should no longer stand alone,” they wrote. “Who would be more deserving of honor with an additional statue than the freedwoman who conceived of the monument?”

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com

To those who think that Donald Trump represents a new phenomenon in American politics, Sarah Churchwell’s essay in The New York Review of Books is a necessary antidote. Open the link to see the alarming photographs that accomparticle. Yes, it happened here. Yes, you should describe to the New York Review of Books.

She writes:

As militarized police in riot gear and armored vehicles barreled into peaceful protesters in cities across America, and its president emerged from a bunker to have citizens tear-gassed on his way to a church he’d never attended, holding a Bible he’d never read, many people recalled a famous saying often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Because Lewis’s novel is the best remembered of the many warnings against American fascism in the interwar years, he has latterly been credited with the admonition, but they are not Lewis’s words.

The adage probably originated instead with James Waterman Wise, son of the eminent American rabbi Stephen Wise and one of the many voices at the time urging Americans to recognize fascism as a serious domestic threat. “The America of power and wealth,” Wise cautioned, is “an America which needs fascism.” American fascism might emerge from “patriotic orders, such as the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution… and it may come to us wrapped in the American flag or a Hearst newspaper.” In another talk that year, he put it slightly differently: American fascism would likely come “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.”

An American fascism would, by definition, deploy American symbols and American slogans. “Do not look for them to raise aloft the swastika,” Wise warned, “or to employ any of the popular forms of Fascism” from Europe. Fascism’s ultra-nationalism means that it works by normalizing itself, drawing on familiar national customs to insist it is merely conducting political business as usual. As José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of Spain’s proto-fascist Falange party, proclaimed in 1934, all fascisms ought to be local and indigenous:

Italy and Germany… turned back towards their own authenticity, and if we do so ourselves, the authenticity which we find will also be our own: it will not be that of Germany or Italy, and therefore, by reproducing the achievement of the Italians or Germans we will become more Spanish than we have ever been… In fascism as in movements of all ages, underneath the local characteristics there are to be found certain constants… What is needed is a total feeling of what is required: a total feeling for the Fatherland, for life, for History.

Samuel Moyn recently argued in these pages against comparing Trump’s policies to fascism, because his administration is “pursuing causes with roots deep in American history. No analogy to Hitler or fascism is needed to explain these results.” But this presumes that fascism does not have its own deep roots in American history. It is arguable—not to say, exceptionalist—to presuppose that anything indigenously American cannot be fascist; this begs the question of American fascism rather than disputing it. Experts on fascism such as Robert O. Paxton, Roger Griffin, and Stanley G. Payne have long argued that fascism can never seem alien to its followers; its claims to speak for “the people” and to restore national greatness mean that each version of fascism must have its own local identity. To believe that a nationalist movement isn’t fascist because it’s native is to miss the point entirely.

Historically, fascist movements were also marked by opportunism, a willingness to say almost anything to get into power, rendering definitions even murkier. Trying to identify its core, the unsplittable fascist atom, has proved impossible; we are left with what Umberto Eco called fascism’s “fuzziness,” others its “hazy and synthetic doctrines.” There are good arguments against attempting through taxonomies to establish what’s become known as a “fascist minimum,” as if a checklist could qualitatively differentiate fascism from other authoritarian dictatorships. Some think anti-Semitism is a litmus test; others genocide. Does colonialism count? Aimé Césaire, C.L.R. James, and Hannah Arendt, among many other notable thinkers who lived through the first fascisms, certainly thought it did, arguing that European fascism visited upon white bodies what colonial and slave systems had perfected in visiting upon black and brown bodies.

Paxton has argued influentially that fascism is as fascism does. But conspicuous features are recognizably shared, including: nostalgia for a purer, mythic, often rural past; cults of tradition and cultural regeneration; paramilitary groups; the delegitimizing of political opponents and demonization of critics; the universalizing of some groups as authentically national, while dehumanizing all other groups; hostility to intellectualism and attacks on a free press; anti-modernism; fetishized patriarchal masculinity; and a distressed sense of victimhood and collective grievance. Fascist mythologies often incorporate a notion of cleansing, an exclusionary defense against racial or cultural contamination, and related eugenicist preferences for certain “bloodlines” over others. Fascism weaponizes identity, validating the herrenvolk and invalidating all the other folk.

Americans of the interwar period, though they could not predict what was to come in Europe, were nonetheless perfectly clear about one fact we have lost sight of today: all fascism is indigenous, by definition. “Fascism must be home grown,” admonished an American lecturer in 1937, “repeating the words of Benito Mussolini, that fascism cannot be imported,” but must be “particularly suited to our national life.” Logically, therefore, “the anti-Negro program” would provide “a very plausible rallying cry for American fascists,” just as anti-Semitism had for Germans. Others recognized that the deep roots of anti-Semitic evangelical Christianity provided equally plausible rallying cries for an American fascism. Wartime patriotism and the Allied triumph soon gave Americans permission to regard fascism as an alien and uniquely European pathology, but “the man on horseback,” the despot who could ride reactionary populist energies to power, had been a specter in American politics since at least as early as the presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

One of the last, and most horrific, public lynchings in America took place in October 1934, in the Florida Panhandle, where a crowd of as many as 5,000 gathered to watch what had been advertised hours earlier in the local press. Claude Neal was burned and castrated, had his genitals stuffed into his mouth, and was forced to tell his torturers that he enjoyed their taste. After he was finally dragged to his death behind a car, his mutilated corpse was urinated upon by the crowds, and then hung from the Marianna Courthouse. The German press, quick to capitalize on reports of American lynching, circulated photographs of Neal, whose horrific death they described with “sharp editorial comments to the effect that America should clean its own house” before it censured other governments’ treatment of their citizens. “Stop Lynching Negroes is Nazi Retort to American Critics,” read the Pittsburgh Courier headline reporting German accounts of American racial violence.

The Courier was one of many African-American papers that not only saw affinities between Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America, but also traced causal connections. “Hitler Learns from America,” the Courier had declared as early as 1933, reporting that German universities under the new regime of the Third Reich were explaining that they drew their ideas from “the American pathfinders Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard,” and that “racial insanities” in America provided Nazi Germany with “a model for oppressing and persecuting its own minorities.” The African-American New York Age similarly wondered if Hitler had studied “under the tutelage” of Klan leaders, perhaps as “a subordinate Kleagle or something of the sort.”

The Nazis themselves saw a clear kinship. Recent histories have demonstrated that Hitler systematically relied upon American race laws in designing the Nuremberg laws, while the Third Reich also actively sought supporters in the Jim Crow South, although the political leadership of the white South largely did not return the favor. But the correspondence between the two systems was perfectly evident at the time, on both sides of the Atlantic. A Nazi consul general in California even tried to purchase the Klan, with the idea of plotting an American putsch. His price was too low—the Klan was nothing if not mercenary—but, as journalists remarked after the story came to light in 1939, the Klan could not afford to seem foreign; “to be effective,” its nativist agenda had to be pursued “in the name of Americanism.”

In 1935, African Americans organized around the country in mass protests against Mussolini’s slaughter of Ethiopians across the sea. “American Fascism Already Has Negroes,” declared the Jamaican-American journalist and historian Joel Augustus Rogers. Langston Hughes agreed: “Give Franco a hood and he would be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a Kleagle. Fascism is what the Ku Klux Klan will be when it combines with the Liberty League and starts using machine guns and airplanes instead of a few yards of rope.” “We Negroes in America Negroes do not have to be told what fascism is in action,” Hughes told another audience. “We know.”

At the same time, in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois published Black Reconstruction in America. This foundational work of African-American revisionist historiography appeared amid the tumult of the Scottsboro Nine’s persecution and as Jesse Owens’s medal haul at the Berlin Olympics was seen as both a joke against Hitler and a rebuke to Jim Crow America. In no way coincidentally, then, Du Bois implies in his study more than once that the white supremacism of Jim Crow America could indeed be regarded as “fascism.” Sixty years later, in a neglected but remarkable essay, Amiri Baraka made Du Bois’s notion explicit, arguing that the end of Reconstruction “heaved Afro America into fascism. There is no other term for it. The overthrow of democratically elected governments and the rule by direct terror, by the most reactionary sector of finance capital… Carried out with murder, intimidation and robbery, by the first storm troopers, again the Hitlerian prototype, the Ku Klux Klan, directly financed by northern capital.” It would take another twenty years for white American historiography to absorb the argument, when, in 2004, Paxton observed in The Anatomy of Fascism that a strong argument could be made for the first Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction South being the world’s earliest fascist movement:

[The first Klan was] an alternative civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.

After the KKK was resurrected in 1915, the second Klan claimed as many as five million members by the mid-1920s, a degree of proliferation in American society that represented one out of every three or four white Protestant American men. When Mussolini burst onto the world stage in 1921, many Americans across the country instantly recognized his project, as newspapers from Montana to Florida explained to their readers that “the ‘Fascisti’ might be known as the Ku Klux Klan,” and “the klan… is the Fascisti of America.” Comparisons between the homegrown Klan and Italian fascism soon became ubiquitous in the American press; the resemblance was not superficial.

The second Klan disintegrated in the late 1920s under the taint of corruption and sex scandals, but some of its erstwhile leaders soon began cutting their bloodstained cloth to fit new political fashions. The majority of the American fascist groups of the interwar period, more than one of which self-identified as fascist, began not as branches of Nazism, but as offshoots of the Klan. Their Christian nationalism was inextricable from their anti-Semitism, although it also led to a sectarianism that may have kept them from forging stronger alliances.

Many of these groups shared the fondness of their European counterparts for dressing up in “colored shirt” uniforms, to suggest organized force and militaristic might, to intimidate and exclude, including Atlanta’s Order of Black Shirts; the White Shirts, militant “Crusaders for Economic Liberty,” founded by George W. Christians, who cultivated a toothbrush mustache and Hitlerian lock of flopping hair; the Gray Shirts, officially “The Pioneer Home Protective Association,” founded in upstate New York; the Khaki Shirts (also “US Fascists”); the Silver Shirts, which William Dudley Pelley modeled on Hitler’s “elite Nazi corps,” and the Dress Shirts. By the end of 1934, American journalists were mocking the growing list. “Gray Shirts Make America No. 1 Among Shirt-Nations,” read one sarcastic headline, noting that unless other countries began cheating by combining colors, “it will be impossible to out-shirt us.”

But others took the threat more seriously. As James Waterman Wise repeatedly explained, “the various colored shirt orders—the whole haberdashery brigade who play upon sectional prejudice,” were “sowing the seeds of Fascism” in the United States. The Black Legion was an offshoot of the Klan that flourished in the Midwest, whose leader spoke of seizing Washington in a revolutionary coup, called the New Deal a Jewish plot “to starve the Gentiles out,” and espoused the extermination of American Jews by means of poison gas dispensers in synagogues on Yom Kippur. Anyone wondering “what fascism would be like in this country” should look to the Black Legion, with its “odor of Hitlerism,” its “anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-labor platform, its whips, clubs and guns, its brazen defiance of law and order and the due processes of democracy,” warned a widely syndicated 1936 editorial. “These are the attitudes and equipment of fascism.”

The short-lived “Friends of the Hitler Movement” soon transformed into the more acceptable “Friends of New Germany” in 1933, before becoming the Bund. It held several large rallies in Madison Square Garden, including its 1939 “Mass Demonstration for True Americanism,” where a giant banner featuring George Washington was flanked by swastikas, and twelve hundred “storm troopers” stood in the aisles delivering the Nazi salute; footage from the rally was restored in 2019 as the short film “A Night at the Garden.” By 1940, the Bund claimed membership of 100,000 and had established summer camps in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Long Island where it trained American Nazi youth. The Bund’s propagandist, Gerhard Kunze, reported at the time that “the swastika is not foreign but one hundred per cent American. The Indians always used it,” while the emblem of another group, “The American National-Socialist Party,” was “an American Indian, arm outstretched in salute, poised against a black swastika.” They admitted to working to naturalize Nazism, seeking consanguinities with American symbolism.

Then, too, there was Father Coughlin. “I take the road of Fascism,” he said in 1936, before forming the Christian Front,” whose members referred to themselves as “brown shirts.” His virulently anti-Semitic radio program, regularly transmitting claims from the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion, reached almost 30 million Americans at its height—the largest radio audience in the world at the time. Those listeners tuned in at the end of 1938 as Coughlin was justifying the violence of Kristallnacht, arguing that it was “reprisal” against Jews who had supposedly murdered more than twenty million Christians and stolen billions of dollars in “Christian property”; Nazism, he said, was a natural “defense mechanism” against the communism financed by Jewish bankers. Coughlin’s weekly newspaper, Social Justice, which had an estimated circulation of 200,000 at its height, was described by Life magazine at the time as probably the most widely read voice of “Nazi propaganda in America.”

But the American leader most often accused of fascist tendencies was Huey Long. As Louisiana governor (and senator), Long imposed local martial law, censored the newspapers, forbade public assemblies, packed the courts and legislatures with his cronies, and installed his twenty-four-year-old lover as secretary of state. Long was a racketeer, but his “Share Our Wealth” program did improve local conditions, building roads and bridges, investing in hospitals and schools, and abolishing the poll tax. His economic populism was also not predicated on furthering racial, ethnic, or religious divisions; he subordinated his white supremacism to his redistributionist political message. “We just lynch an occasional nigger,” he breezily declared when dismissing anti-lynching laws, though he also recognized “you can’t help poor white people without helping Negroes,” and so was prepared for his rising tide to lift all boats. When Long set his sights on the 1936 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sufficiently alarmed to inform his ambassador to Germany: “Long plans to be a candidate of the Hitler type for the presidency,” predicting that by 1940 Long would try to install himself as a dictator.

Roosevelt was hardly alone in fearing that Long sought to be an “American Fuehrer”; Long’s political career gave plenty of reason for doubting his democratic bona fides. He inspired Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip in It Can’t Happen Here, the president-dictator who promises Americans $5,000 a year if they vote for him, as Long had done. But the name Windrip also suggests Rev. Gerald B. Winrod, the “Kansas Hitler” who led the “Defenders of the Christian Faith” and had been touring the nation lecturing on the millenarian role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini in Biblical prophecy since the late 1920s. That Lewis also viewed the Klan as a fascist movement is clear from an extended denunciation that opens the novel, in which Lewis rips through a genealogy of American proto-fascist tendencies, including anti-Semitism, political corruption, war hysteria, conspiracy theories, and evangelical Christianity, before ending on the “Kentucky night-riders,” the “trainloads of people [who] have to gone to enjoy lynchings.” “Not happen here?… Where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!”

President Windrip himself is “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.” His fascist regime, driven by Christian nationalism and a desire for ethnic homogeneity, turns both African Americans and Jews into enemies of the state, decreeing that all bankers are Jewish. It Can’t Happen Here suggests that in America, fascism’s most dangerous supporters would be those “who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” It would be “government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits.” Fascism’s cancerous version of nationalism means that an American fascism will always graft American pieties about individual liberty onto realities of systemic greed, printing “liberate” on flags waved by a huckster.

Dorothy Thompson, the celebrated journalist and anti-fascist campaigner and Sinclair Lewis’s wife at the time, similarly earned the sobriquet of “Cassandra” for prophesying that fascism in the US would look all too familiarly American when it arrived. (Thompson enjoyed the riposte that Cassandra was always proven right in the end.) “When Americans think of dictators they always think of some foreign model,” she said, but an American dictator would be “one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” And the American people, Thompson added, “will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic, sheeplike bleat of ‘O.K., Chief! Fix it like you wanna, Chief!’” A year later, a Yale professor named Halford Luccock was also widely cited in the press when he told an audience: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’” And Luccock went on: “The high-sounding phrase ‘the American way’ will be used by interested groups, intent on profit, to cover a multitude of sins against the American and Christian tradition, such sins as lawless violence, tear gas and shotguns, denial of civil liberties.”

A few years later, Thompson wrote again in similar terms, saying she was reminded of what Huey Long himself had once explained to her: “American Fascism would never emerge as a Fascist but as a 100 percent American movement; it would not duplicate the German method of coming to power but would only have to get the right President and Cabinet.” FDR’s vice president, Henry Wallace, issued his own warning. “American fascism will not be really dangerous,” he wrote in The New York Times in 1944, “until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.”

Wallace’s warning came amid the Roosevelt administration’s misguided prosecution on sedition charges of many of these figures, including Winrod, Pelley, Elizabeth Dilling (of the so-called Mothers’ Movement), and James True (who founded a group called “America First Inc.” and called for an American pogrom). This constellation had orbited around the America First Committee of 1940–1941 and its figurehead Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator who, for a time, lent their conspiratorial anti-Semitism a veneer of legitimacy until he met with disgrace in September 1941 for a speech widely condemned as anti-Semitic and “un-American.” As the United States entered World War II, the meaning of “America First” underwent an abrupt volte-face from patriotic to seditious, becoming a byword for anti-Semitic Nazi sympathies.

That did not stop Huey Long’s former deputy, the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith—who had built his own political career on denunciations of presumptively Jewish “international bankers”—from running for president in 1944 on a promise to fix the nation’s “Jewish problem.” Smith’s party was called America First.

Now, in 2020, we find ourselves with an America First president. Arguments that Donald Trump can only be understood in relation to the modern conservative movement in America, best framed by the turn to the right under Barry Goldwater or Lee Atwater’s famous Southern Strategy, assume a rupture with American politics of the interwar period that was not necessarily evident at the time. To give just one example, Goldwater was described more than once during his presidential run in 1964, by both his supporters and his critics, as an “America First” politician.

Nor is it only Trump’s critics who see fascist tendencies in his administration’s rhetoric glorifying violence and disregarding the rule of law, democratic processes, and civil liberties; the president and his supporters regularly embrace traditions of American fascism themselves. “America First” was initially the favorite slogan of American xenophobic nativist movements and politics from 1915 to 1941, starting with Woodrow Wilson’s loyalty test, demanding that immigrant “hyphenate Americans” prove they were for “America First,” followed by its use as a rallying cry to keep America out of the League of Nations and from ratifying the Treaty of Versailles. Warren G. Harding also ran on an America First campaign in 1920, even as the slogan was being appropriated by the second Klan, which regularly marched with the legend on banners and used it in recruitment ads. It was invoked on the floor of Congress by supporters of the nativist and eugenicist Immigration Act of 1924. Then it was assimilated by self-styled American fascist groups of the 1930s, including the German-American Bund and the virulently anti-Semitic “America First, Inc.,” before it was adopted by the America First Committee of 1940–1941, when Lindbergh used it to convince Americans that “Jewish interests” were seeking to manipulate the United States into taking part in a European war.

Trump himself has echoed the “Nordicist” rhetoric of interwar Klansmen and American fascists when he said he would prefer more immigrants from Norway and fewer from “shithole” places like Haiti and Africa. He has praised the “bloodlines” of Henry Ford, who circulated the series of articles titled “The International Jew,” which promulgated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion across America during the 1920s. In that same decade, Fred Trump, then a young man (later, father of Donald), was arrested after a brawl involving Klansmen broke out at a Memorial Day Parade in Queens. Donald Trump was reported to own the speeches of Hitler during the 1990s; he denied ever reading them—but then he is also incapable of telling the truth.

And lately, in response to the killing of George Floyd in the spring of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation and then the world, Donald Trump announced that he would hold a rally for his supporters in Tulsa—one year short of the centenary of the worst anti-black pogrom in American history, which left as many as 300 African Americans dead, 8,000 homeless, and the city’s black community destroyed. Trump’s rally was to have taken place on June 19, a day known as “Juneteenth” that has come to be celebrated as an anniversary marking the end of slavery in the US and the emancipation of African Americans. For complex historical reasons, the deferral of liberty and the franchise, the belatedness of free and full citizenship under the law, the active suppression of black rights, all resonate in the Juneteenth celebration. (After widespread outrage at the clear provocation, Trump’s rally was postponed a day, to June 20, still in Tulsa. Trump proceeded to take credit for educating the country about Juneteenth.)

Trump is no student of history, but someone around him clearly is. But it is also true that Trump’s thundering ignorance does not mean he doesn’t understand the racist and fascist rhetoric he deploys. We need not argue that he is a mastermind plotting a fascist coup to recognize that Trump has a demonstrable sense of how white supremacism works in America, without ever having troubled to organize his thoughts, such as he has, about it.

And this, too, was how fascism always operated in practice: it was nothing if not opportunistic. What Paxton calls its “mobilizing passions” catalyze fascism, which is propelled, as he notes, more by feelings than by thought. Only “the historic destiny of the group,” matters to fascists, he adds: “their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community.” Its “hazy and synthetic doctrines,” combined with its ultra-nationalism and anti-intellectualism, mean that fascism is never a coherent set of ideological doctrines. Force takes the place of ideology, as the fascist strong man performs for his followers their sense of rightful dominance and rage that other groups, in embracing equality, reject their entitlements.

American fascist energies today are different from 1930s European fascism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fascist, it means they’re not European and it’s not the 1930s. They remain organized around classic fascist tropes of nostalgic regeneration, fantasies of racial purity, celebration of an authentic folk and nullification of others, scapegoating groups for economic instability or inequality, rejecting the legitimacy of political opponents, the demonization of critics, attacks on a free press, and claims that the will of the people justifies violent imposition of military force. Vestiges of interwar fascism have been dredged up, dressed up, and repurposed for modern times. Colored shirts might not sell anymore, but colored hats are doing great.

Reading about the inchoate American fascist movements of the 1930s during the Trump administration feels less prophetic than proleptic, a time-lapse montage of a para-fascist order slowly willing itself into existence over the course of nearly a century. It certainly seems less surprising that recognizably fascistic violence is erupting in the United States under Trump, as his attorney general sends troops to the national capital to act as a private army, armed paramilitary groups occupy state capitols, laws are passed to deny the citizenship and rights of specific groups, and birthright citizenship as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment is attacked. When the president declares voting an “honor” rather than a right and “jokes” about becoming president for life, when the government makes efforts to add new categories of ethnic identity to the decennial census for the first time in the nation’s history, and when nationwide protests in response to racial injustice become the pretext for mooting martial law, we are watching an American fascist order pulling itself together.

Trump is neither aberrant nor original. Nativist reactionary populism is nothing new in America, it just never made it to the White House before. In the end, it matters very little whether Trump is a fascist in his heart if he’s fascist in his actions. As one of Lewis’s characters notes of the dictator in It Can’t Happen Here: “Buzz isn’t important—it’s the sickness that made us throw him up that we’ve got to attend to.”

Steve Hinnefeld blogs about education. He is based in Indiana, which has funded charters and vouchers, the latter despite a state constitution that bans funding religious schools.

He writes here about the Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision that held that religious schools must be included in state programs that fund private schools (almost all state voucher programs already fund religious schools, in fact, I can’t think of one that does not do so).

Hinnefeld interviewed a legal scholar, who explained how misinformed the Court was:

The majority opinion — and especially concurring opinions by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas — framed the decision as a blow against anti-Catholic bias enshrined in state constitutions via 19th century “Blaine amendments.” But that view papers over complex history, said Steven K. Green, a legal scholar at Willamette University and a leading expert on church-state issues.

Green told me it was disappointing that the court, in a highly consequential decision, “relied, to a certain extent, on a shortsighted view of history, not recognizing the nuances behind the development of the no-aid provisions.” Green elaborates on that history in an amicus brief submitted to the court on behalf of several Christian religious organizations that supported Montana’s position.

Blaine amendments get their name from James Blaine, a Maine congressman and senator and U.S. secretary of state in the late 1800s. In 1875, Blaine introduced a constitutional amendment to prohibit federal funding of religious institutions. It failed, but some states adopted similar provisions for state funding.

The late 1800s were a time of rising anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bias. In Indiana, the nativist Know-Nothing Party gained a large following. But restriction on state funding of religion “predates the Know-Nothings and the Blaine amendment,” Green said. “And it occurred in places where there was not that much religious strife.

“Without a doubt, a lot of people, during the Blaine amendment arguments, certainly raised anti-Catholic rhetoric,” he said, “But that misunderstands the origins and purpose of the no-funding provisions. The nuance is just left out.”

For one thing, 15 of the state Blaine amendments predated Blaine and his proposal. Michigan was the first state to put a ban on state funding for religion in its constitution – in 1835, when Blaine was 5 years old.

Wisconsin followed in 1848 and Indiana in 1851. I’ve read the notes from the Indiana constitutional convention, and there is no anti-Catholic animus there. In Indiana and in other states, the primary concern was to ensure adequate funding for the public schools they were beginning to establish.

Green said the Supreme Court also ignores history when it downplays the importance of keeping church and state separate.

The First Amendment includes two clauses concerning religious freedom: it forbids “the establishment of religion” and bans laws that prohibit “the free exercise” of religion. The framers of the U.S. Constitution, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were deeply concerned that state support for religion would entangle government with churches: hence the establishment clause and Jefferson’s famous words about “a wall of separation” between church and state.

“The court seems to say the provision on establishing religion has to take a back seat to the free exercise clause,” Green said.

Consequential Court decisions based on misinformation and error should be overturned.

The following item was posted this morning in Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac.” The asassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the event that triggered the First World War. That was destabilized Europe, destroyed empires, and created the social and economic conditions that led to the Second World War. We are still living with the consequences of what happed on June 28, 1914.


It was on this day in 1914 that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which began a chain of events that ultimately led to World War I.

In 1882, Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary signed a Triple Alliance. Britain was nervous about Russian expansion, but was allied with France, who was allied with Russia, so eventually Britain also agreed to an alliance with Russia; the alliance between those three nations became known as the “Triple Entente.”

By the time that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the alliances were so complex that any act of aggression by any nation toward any other was almost guaranteed to set off a conflict across all of Europe.

Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He went to visit Sarajevo, where he was not very popular. Sarajevo was the capital of Bosnia, one of the provinces of Austria-Hungary. But many Bosnians had no interest in being part of the empire, and there were radical militant groups like the Black Hand Gang trying to unite the various Slavic territories under their own rule. The archduke’s assassin, Gavrilo Princip was a 19-year-old member of the Black Hand. Another member of the Black Hand had tried to assassinate Franz Ferdinand earlier that morning, but the grenade he threw had a 10-second delay, so it exploded under a car behind the royal couple, seriously injuring several other people. The archduke changed his parade route so that he could go visit the victims in the hospital, but his driver took a wrong turn. The driver stalled the car while he tried to back up, and Princip just happened to be on that street close to the car. So he pulled out a pistol and shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie from just a few feet away. Both of them died before they made it to the hospital.

Austria-Hungary immediately blamed the attack on Serbia. The assassination was the excuse that Austria-Hungary needed, and Emperor Franz Joseph declared war on Serbia. Serbia was a small nation, but it called on a powerful ally, Russia, who agreed to fight its side. And suddenly, all the allies were falling into line: Germany sided with Austria-Hungary, and after Germany declared war on France and invaded neutral Belgium, England declared war on Germany.

From the beginning, there were staggering death tolls during what was called “The Great War.” In the Battle of the Somme, close to 60,000 British soldiers died the first day, and by the time the four-month battle was over, more than 1.5 million soldiers had died. The 10-month Battle of Verdun ended with 540,000 French and 430,000 Germans dead. There are no exact death tolls, but an estimated 115,000 American soldiers died, 1.4 million French soldiers, 1.7 million German soldiers, and 1.7 million Russian soldiers.

On top of that, there was a huge financial cost, estimated at between $180 and 230 billion on direct military costs alone.

World War I is often represented as a pointless war — a war started by a relatively minor event, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, and marked by long deadlocked battles. But historians say the conflict had been building for years. There were already strong tensions among the European nations, not only from conflicting alliances and naval competition, but also from competing stakes in colonial territories — Germany wanted to undermine the British and French empires; and empires like Austria-Hungary were weakened by ethnic conflict and rebellion.

These days, the most famous literature from World War I depicts the horror and the futility of the war — poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and the novel All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) by Erich Maria Remarque, all of them soldiers as well as writers.

The historian Niall Ferguson wrote: “1914–18 was one of the great watersheds in financial history. The United States emerged for the first time as the rival to Great Britain as a financial super power. … It’s the point at which the United States firmly ceases to be a debtor and becomes a creditor nation — the world’s banker.”

I invited Paul Horton, a history teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, to write on the topic, “Why study history?” He wrote this essay.

Betsy Devos’ War on History is Just Another Trip to Fantasyland

Without history we are lost. Without history we are disconnected, thrown into limitless space and time that has no ground or purpose. Learning history is central to learning individual identity and how that individual identity fits into a larger picture or purpose.

Up until the “age of mechanical reproduction,” to use Walter Benjamin’s phrase, history was passed from generation to generation in the form of face to face storytelling. The griot, the elder, or grandma and grandpa, wove meaning into the telling of family and human history. The storyteller wove the individual, family, and human stories together into a fabric or pattern of meaning, into a place and a purpose. The teleology of the individual became a part of a fabric of a larger human story that had beginning and ending points with a purpose.

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as storytelling has been largely lost in an endless sea of competing narratives and digital noise, we are losing our sense of the past. To be sure, academic and popular historians continue to pen compelling narratives, insisting that narrative storytelling is not a lost art. But, as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has demonstrated, fewer and fewer students read books, and the required history books that they do read are neither compelling narratives nor accurate depictions of national or global pasts.

In the United States, history texts are censored to cut objectionable social and political history at the behest of conservative state school boards in the South who seek to restrict “critical thinking.” As more and more Americans become more concerned with their “white identity,”(Jardina, White Identity Politics, 2019) Western Civilization and European History courses are making a big comeback to seize ground in curricula, displacing recently added World or Global History courses that make use of the best contemporary research.

History has been demoted in the curriculum to a step-cousin of literacy, standardized testing, the so-called “Advanced” Placement course, and, in its most current iteration, an instrument of propaganda designed to promote a whitewashed American exceptionalism that folds neatly into Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ Dutch Reformed version of providential history, a history dominated by those like her who have received grace and have been rewarded as “visible saints” and who see themselves charged with rebuilding the great Puritan “city upon a hill.”

DeVos has used the decline in History and Civics scores on the 2019 NAEP to discredit public education and “government schools,” but she does not know what she is talking about as usual. (see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/23/betsy-devos-calls-low-history-civics-marks-stark-inexcusable-are-naep-scores-worth-fretting/ )

As the NAEP has also made abundantly clear, students are reading less and they are not reading books and narratives. If DeVos or her predecessor, Arne Duncan for that matter, were to ask history teachers what the problem was, the history teachers would point to the problem of digital learning or the coming of the “igeneration.” Students who have grown up with iphones have shorter attention spans, give less attention to detail and context, as reading degenerates into scanning. The prevalence of scanning rather than has made students more resistant to reading for understanding and analysis. According to studies conducted by Sam Wineburg and his colleagues at Stanford History Education Geoup, the average students’ ability to critically analyze historical texts is abysmal (see article linked above).

Secondly, as popular historian David McCullough has long contended, most history textbooks are so dull and watered down that students hate to read them. Because much of what students want to learn is deleted by conservative state schoolboard watchdogs, students correctly liken reading these books to eating a thin, tasteless gruel. The compelling narrative histories of Joy Hakim offer an exemplar of history writing that should be used at every grade level.

Thirdly, standardized testing has effectively consigned the acquisition of meaningful and enriching historical narratives to the dustbin of history. With the coming of the punitive No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Child Succeeds Acts under Bush II and Obama, narrative histories have been pulverized into standardized test item data points that are separated from meaningful context. The Common Core Standards, as implemented during the Obama administration, emphasize basic reading literacy skills measured by multiple choice tests or basic regurgitation short essays that repeat the same words and phrases that are graded by algorithms.

Rather than reading narrative histories and novels, students read selected historical documents. The problem with this emphasis is that it borrows from the outdated New Criticism approach that fails to connect documents to broader contexts. Historical thinking requires a constant analysis of the connection between the document and context. This is where Sam Wineburg and his Stanford History Education group fall short. For example, Common Core lessons developed as a model of how the Gettysburg Address should be taught does not consider the broader contexts during the Civil War and American society when the address was penned. (see Horton, “Common Core and the Gettysburg Address,” Education Week, Nov. 21, 2013)

Moreover, The Common Core revision of the American Social Studies curriculum, C3, makes a similar mistake. The curriculum deemphasizes history in favor of the social sciences (History makes up 70% of the required high school curriculum), and it emphasizes the Document based question. This is not in itself bad, but DBQs need to be done right. Here the DBQ Project that originated in Evanston, Illinois High School, is far superior to the materials produced by the Stanford History Education group in providing narrative contexts for the analysis of documents. Again, what is missing from C3 is the vital importance of narrative reading research papers of varying lengths. Any historian will tell you that analysis of documents must be pieced together into a sustained and coherent argument that connects documents to broader contexts and interpretations. Critical analytical thinking is the product of this process. (see, Paul Horton, “History Matters: The C3 Social Studies Standards are Fool’s Gold,” Education Week, Jan. 16, 2014)

A former student who helps program Amazon robots for Amazon warehouses told me that she learned how to think and solve problems from my history class that used this constant analysis of going back and forth between document and context to weigh proximate cause and pattern recognition issues. Teaching authentic history is teaching thinking skills that can be applied to any problem. Is it a coincidence that so many lawyers are history majors?

Fourthly, standardized testing for literacy pushes history and social studies to the margins of the curriculum. As testing for basic literacy became used to score the performance of teachers and schools, the teaching of history was deemphasized. Principals predictably moved all of their resources to training that would raise reading comprehension scores. This required making use of Common Core materials that did not make use of historical narratives, and that focused on discrete documents severed from a broader picture as noted above. As the former Direction of the National Council for History Education in Illinois, I received many complaints from History teachers across the state that indicated that History departments in middle and highs schools were dropping history courses and combining English and Social Studies Departments. A preservice History Teaching Professor at Western Illinois University complained that “because History is not tested” as a part of the recent Common Core testing regime “it really did not matter.” This is certainly what many building principals were thinks as they moved resources and teaching assignments away from Social Studies and History departments. I have no doubt that this phenomenon of resource depletion was a common pattern across the country in recent years.

Finally, at the upper end of the high school curriculum, I would argue that AP History testing has played a huge role in diminishing the learning of History. Although the AP History courses have been redesigned recently, the emphasis on standardized multiple-choice regurgitation on 50% of the test items (that up until a few years ago set the mean for subjective portions of the tests) again emphasizes data points over thinking and interpretation. I was a very successful AP History teacher at several schools as my students achieved very high average scores on their tests. But, as I became a grader and began to talk about the tests with teachers from around the country and the world, my enthusiasm for the AP program diminished considerably. Most teachers reported that after cramming for the AP tests their students did not appreciate any intrinsic value in studying history and that the long-term impact of cramming and regurgitation registered little retention in long-term memory. The biggest problem with AP is that students learn to view the History course as something with transactional rather than intrinsic value. Students take the course and the tests to earn scores to test out of required survey history courses in college. This process demeans the value of history as something important to learn. Significantly, excellent college courses in history are not taken by many of our most capable students who are more worried about organic chemistry and finance. Harvard Historian Jill Leplore reports that when parents find out their students have signed up for history, “their parents tell them to run away.”

The biggest single problem with AP is that building Principals like to up the metrics of AP enrollment in their schools to boost their school’s reputation. This sounds good for district and school PR, but problems abound with this approach. We see it on the grading end where graders routinely find folders containing twenty-five blue books that score 0 because the students taking the test don’t write more than a sentence or two, leaving the rest of the blue-book blank. The problem is that many of the students selected into AP classes lack the reading skills to master History at the AP level, there are not enough History teachers who are trained to teach the AP adequately, and that the course is to rapidly paced and requires too much regurgitation.

History is plainly in crisis in this country, but not because “government schools” are bad as DeVos claims. At the broadest cultural level, the Humanities are under attack and have been defunded at all levels in favor of utilitarian ideas about finding a vocation. When a corporate and American Academy for the Arts and Sciences sponsored commission issued a report that recommended twelve principles for the teaching of the Humanities and the Social Sciences was issued several years ago called “The Heart of the Matter,” the report embraced the Common Core Standards as a necessary foundation for Humanities and Social Science education. The signatories apparently did not understand that the Common Core Standards were coupled with a standardized testing regime that diminished the very values that its authors sought to valorize.

If we are to save history in the United States, or at least increase NAEP scores, we must replace standardized testing with Project based learning, exciting narrative reading, and essay and paper writing. While document analysis is at the core of historical thinking, that analysis must be subsumed within the reading of compelling narrative histories that tell the exciting and engaging stories that all students love to read. Students need to work on history projects that “light the history flame” rather than regurgitate tired, discrete, meaningless facts. Students love stories and we need to get back to history as storytelling, history that cannot be reduced to multiple choice test items or computer graded essays.

We are clearly adrift in the United States. We are lost and we are facing several existential crises at once. In the words of novelist-historian Kurt Andersen, we have entered “Fantasyland.” “The American experiment” according to Andersen, “the original embodiment of the Great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, each of us free to reinvent himself by imagination and will. In America, those exciting parts of the Enlightenment have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts.”

But, says Andersen, “Little by little for centuries, then more and more faster and faster during the last half century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become. The cliché would be the frog in the gradually warming pot, oblivious to its doom until too late.” (Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History, p.5)

I submit that the crisis of magical ahistorical thinking is every bit as pressing as the crisis of environmental sustainability. Indeed, as the work of J.R. McNeill and so many other environmental historians demonstrate, historical understanding and sustainability go hand and hand. A return to learning history will allow us to better think about how to turn down the heat.

Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac” reports that today the very first SAT was administered on a trial basis. It was created by Professor Carl C. Brigham of Princeton, one of the founding psychologists of the IQ test. Brigham wrote one of the most notoriously racist, anti-immigrant books of the 1920s. Brigham asserted that wide scale IQ testing demonstrated that whites from Northern Europe were superior to immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe and to American blacks. His book, “A Study of American Intelligence,” helped the movement to restrict immigration and reinforced virulent racism.

TWA noted the day:

It was on this day in 1926 that 8,040 college applicants, in 353 locations around the U.S., were administered an experimental college admissions test. The test was the brainchild of Carl Brigham, a professor of psychology at Princeton. Brigham had been an assistant during World War I for the U.S. Army’s IQ testing movement, the “Army Alpha,” which assessed the intelligence of new recruits. After the war, he tinkered with the test, mainly making it more difficult, but also looking for a measurement of pure intelligence, regardless of the test-taker’s educational background. Just 4 years later, however, Brigham came to believe that the test scores represented not “pure intelligence,” but rather “a composite including schooling, family background, familiarity with English and everything else, relevant and irrelevant.” The Scholastic Aptitude Test, now known as the SAT, was formally adopted in 1942. Today’s test takes three hours to complete.

The College Board decided to make the switch on December 7, 1941, because of the Japanese attack on the American base at Pearl Harbor. The college presidents were meeting at Princeton that day and realized the US would soon be at war. There would be no time for essay-based exams. In 1942, machine-scored, multiple-choice tests replaced the old College Boards, which had been created, written and scored by teams of teachers and professors.

Yesterday, on Father’s Day, Mike Klonsky posted a tribute to his father, Max Robert Klonsky, who went to Spain in 1937 to fight fascism as part of the legendary Lincoln Brigade. He was a “premature anti-fascist,” the saying at the time. The Spanish Civil War was a rehearsal for World War II. Only genuine leftists understood that Franco and Hitler were preparing for a wider attack on the democracies of Europe.

Mike says proudly that his dad was a true antifa. The current antifa lives mainly in Donald Trump’s nightmares.

I was born in 1938 and grew up in Houston, which was super-conservative during the 1950s when I first became conscious of political matters. I never heard of the Spanish Civil War until after I graduated college in 1960. It was not taught in any of my American or European history classes. I learned about it living in New York City, where contemporaries debated left wing politics. I learned about it working for a small democratic-socialist (and decidedly anti-Communist) magazine called “The New Leader,” where writers argued about the Rosenberg case, Alger Hiss, HUAC, Trotskyites, Mensheviks, Cannonites, Schactmanites, and other issues and personalities of the left. I learned about it as I studied Picasso’s “Guernica.” I learned about it listening to Pete Seeger singing songs of that war (I still remember the lyrics of the song about The Valley of Jarama, where Mike’s dad fought).

Reading about Mike and Fred Klonsky’s father made me sense a part of history come to life.

He was a premature anti-fascist.

In World War II, all Americans were anti-fascist.

I am anti-fascist. Aren’t you?

CORRECTION: Typo: I was born in 1938, not 1948 (Department of Wishful Thinking).

In response to the murder of George Floyd, as well as the murders of other African Americans in recent months, the media, historians, teachers, and others are reviewing the long history of vicious racism in this country and calling for structural changes. The challenge of our time is to look deeply into our institutions and not let this moment of reckoning with our racist attitudes and institutions fade away without meaningful change. No American should have to fear for their life and safety because of the color of their skin.

Paul Horton, acted her and historian at the University of Chicago Lab School (a unionized private school), shared this essay about her history:


Just a teacher-historian sharing history who spent hundreds of hours as a graduate student researching the KKK Reports, the set of published congressional investigations into the KKK and affiliated organizations during Reconstruction.

Yesterday, Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative published a report that estimates that over 2,000 blacks were murdered during Reconstruction for political activities associated with organizing for the party of Lincoln in the American South from 1865-1877. The Democratic Party in the South at this time and later referred to itself as “the party of the white man,” and the KKK was its paramilitary arm during and after Reconstruction, extending into the Civil Rights era.

NAACP founder and chief researcher, W.E.B. Dubois, published a similar estimate of murders of black people in the South during the Jim Crow era. Historians Elizabeth Hale and Phillip Dray and many others have documented Southern ritualized violence within the context of “constructing whiteness” as a unifying identity that was intended create what historian George Frederickson called a”herrenfolk democracy” that united poor, middle class, and wealthy Southern whites behind common white identity. It is important to draw the connection between the construction of Confederate monuments within the context of this racial violence. These monuments were constructed in the early twentieth century as black bodies were being lynched and mutilated in spectacles that often were witnessed by hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of whites of all social classes.

What we are witnessing today has to be seen within this context. During Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, tens of thousands of black Americans were sent to convict labor camps, most often on trumped up minor offences like loitering or not possessing a work contract. The intent of state officials in building these labor camps was to remove freedman from Southern cities. Those successful blacks who would not leave were subjected to “white riots” that destroyed black middle-class areas of New Orleans and Memphis in 1866; Colfax, Louisiana in response to the legitimate election of a Radical Republican county slate (1873), Wilmington, North Carolina, a white supremacist coup (1898); and Elaine, Arkansas where dozens who farmers were murdered for attempting to form a union (1919). Black areas were torched in East St. Louis (1917) Chicago (1919), Omaha (1919), Washington D.C. (1919). and Tulsa, Oklahoma (1921) in the wake of WWI when black soldiers returning home from a “war to make the world safe for democracy” began to assert their labor and civil rights. The entire town of Rosewood, Florida was torched during the first week of 1923 for similar reasons. The context surrounding the Rosewood massacre was the subject of a feature film directed by John Singleton in 1997. Most of the eyewitnesses to the massacre were murdered, but historians estimate the number killed to range from 27-200.

Massacres of hundreds of blacks also took place during the Civil War when black union soldiers and their officers were routinely murdered after surrendering because the Confederate government had a policy of “no quarter” for the USCT. This is why the phrase “no quarter” used by senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas in a recent NYT OpEd is so offensive to many. One hundred and eighty-two USCT (black) soldiers of the 1st Kansas Union regiment were killed, most after they had surrendered at Poison Spring, Arkansas in 1864. To this day, many in Arkansas refer to the ‘battle of Poison Spring” without mentioning the massacre that took place after black troops laid down their arms. The massacre at Fort Pillow, Tennessee was the bloodiest massacre of surrendered African American soldiers and their officers during the war. The total number of black soldiers killed after they surrendered most historians now believe ranges from two hundred to four hundred. (To learn more about Fort Pillow, see Paul Horton, “A Model for Teaching Secondary History: The Case of Fort Pillow,” The History Teacher, 2000)

Most of us know about the violence of slavery, but few of us outside of the Black community fully understand the level of violence that black people have experienced after “freedom.” Police and vigilante murders of unarmed black men have a long, sordid history in the United States after the Civil War. The Civil Rights Movement did not make this go away. Police departments all over the country must be trained in this long history, use of deadly force must be severely restricted, our public and private prisons, which resemble Reconstruction work camps that are used to profit investors, must be tightly regulated and house only violent offenders.

Rather than simply dismissing calls for “abolition” and “defunding the police,” in light of our renewed attention to the systematic violence committed against black people in this country, we need to enter into a serious dialogue that creates lasting reforms that go beyond getting rid of symbols and statues. These reforms must result in substantial legal changes at all levels of government and a citizen sponsored reconstitution of policing at every level.

If you would like to learn more about the KKK and Reconstruction violence against educators and those, black and white, who stood for racial and civil justice, you can study the documented evidence for yourselves. The following linked article will describe how you can get to the KKK Reports digitally: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/03/06/teacher-heres-the-history-lesson-betsy-devos-needed-on-black-colleges-and-the-ku-klux-klan/

Today is Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery. Juneteenth is the day in 1865 when black people in Texas finally got the news that slavery had been abolished. There is currently a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Many large corporations already recognize its importance.

Now, as the nation is rocked by demonstrations and protests against racism, is a good time to stop honoring Confederate heroes.

Education Week conducted a survey and identified some 174 schools, all in the south, that honor southern heroes, mainly Robert E. Lee. Let’s face it. The leaders of the insurrection were traitors to the United States. Their “sacred cause” was white supremacy. The war they fought to secede cost more than 600,000 lives.

Alan Singer says it’s past time to remove all the statues and memorials honoring Robert E. Lee, who violated his oath to serve his country and waged war against it.

Growing up in Houston, I attended Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School, named for a Confederate General, the first of his rank to die in the Civil War. I didn’t know anything about him as a student, although everyone memorized the school marching song that honored his name (he died in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862).The school’s name was changed only four years ago, along with those of other schools in Houston named for heroes of the Confederacy.

Recently, the leaders of the military proposed renaming military bases that bear the names of Confederate generals. Trump flatly rejected the proposal, claiming that it would dishonor the military. Strange words from a man who ridiculed Senator John McCain because he was captured in Vietnam. Why praise generals who lost a disastrous rebellion while demeaning a war hero who refused the opportunity to be freed until the other American captives imprisoned with him were released?

Democrats are demanding the renaming of the military bases named for Confederate generals. House Democrats have vowed to attach their demand to the defense funding bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren is attaching an amendment to the Defense Authorization act requiring the renaming of the bases.

Justice Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was outraged by Warren’s amendment. He sent out a blast email to the other judges and their clerks calling her amendment “madness.” A day later, a black clerk responded to Justice Silberman, risking his job, defending Warren’s proposal.

The Intercept reported:

“Hi Judge Silberman,” began the career-risking reply-all email, “I am one of only five black law clerks in this entire circuit. However, the views I express below are solely my own,” they went on. “Since no one in the court’s leadership has responded to your message, I thought I would give it a try.”

[M]y maternal ancestors were enslaved in Mississippi. While the laws of this nation viewed my ancestors as property, I view them as hostages. In a hostage situation, when someone does something that leads to the freeing of the hostages, I am not sure if the hostages would be concerned as to whether the person that saved them, actually intended to save them. In this instance, as people considered to be property, my ancestors would not have been involved in the philosophical and political debates about Lincoln’s true intentions, or his view on racial equality. For them, and myself, race is not an abstract topic to be debated, so in my view anything that was built to represent white racial superiority, or named after someone who fought to maintain white supremacy (or the Southern economy of slavery), see Photo of Liberty Monument attached, should be removed from high trafficked areas of prominence and placed in museums where they can be part of lessons that put them in context.

In your message, you talked about your ancestors, one that fought for the confederacy and one that fought for the Union. This seems to be a true example of a house divided. However, it is very clear what the Confederacy stood for. In 1861, at the Virginia secession convention, Henry L. Benning (for whom Fort Benning is named) in explaining the reasoning for Georgia’s decision to secede from the United States stated, “[it] was a conviction … that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery…[I]t is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back.” Unfortunately, in this scenario, no matter how bravely your uncle fought for the Confederacy, the foundation of his fight was a decision that he agreed more with the ideals of the Confederacy, than he did with those of the Union. And in the end, he chose the losing side of history.

Finally, I will note that the current movement to rename Government owned facilities is in line with your previous opinions on the importance of names and what they represent. In 2005, you publicly advocated for the removal of J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building due to the problematic material you came across in your review of his FBI files after his death. You equated it to the Defense Department being named for Aaron Burr. In view of your opinion of J. Edgar Hoover’s history and your advocacy for renaming the FBI building because of the prominence it provides Hoover’s legacy, it is very strange that you would be against renaming our military facilities, since the legacy of the Confederacy represents the same thing. This moment of confronting our nation’s racial history is too big to be disregarded based on familial ties.

The correspondence was provided to The Intercept by a member of the Court staff on the condition the identity of the clerk (who was not the source) and judges who replied be kept confidential.

After the clerk’s response came out, others spoke up, including two black judges.

Slam dunk.

This flurry of activism is a response to the outrage kindled by the murder of George Floyd. It is a response to a newly awakened public opinion. It is a testament to the work of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rename the schools. Rename the bases. Honor heroes of freedom and democracy. Put the statues of Confederate military leaders in a museum where their words and deeds and legacy can be studied as part of American history. To be discussed but not to be honored as heroes.