Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit

churches

One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

Continue reading

Life experience trumps popular platitudes regarding race

Church

This past Saturday found me looking for a long-vanished church in what was once the town of Helena, SC.

Helena, subsumed years ago by the county seat of Newberry, is a predominantly African-American area with a couple of interesting and decidedly disparate claims to history: It is the birthplace of civil rights activist Frank J. Toland Sr. and, conversely, was where noted racial demagogue Cole Blease served as mayor in the late 19th century before moving on to the South Carolina state legislature, the governor’s office and finally the US Senate.

There are almost no records of Helena Church available on the Internet, and all I had to go on was information found on a genealogy site titled “Newberry County GenWeb SC Cemetery Project,” which lists numerous county cemeteries, along with addresses and GPS coordinates if that data is available.

For the old Helena Church, the information included GPS coordinates and the words “S/A Browns Chapel.” I don’t know what “S/A” refers to, but I am familiar with a Brown Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal church in the Helena area of Newberry, sometimes identified as Browns Chapel.

I have been told of cases of some older white churches abandoning their structures once congregations dwindled to a size that they were no longer a viable house of worship, at which point a black church would take over the building.

Wondering if Brown Chapel was the old Helena Church, or built on the site of the latter, I decided to pay it a visit.

I pulled into the crushed-gravel parking lot about 2 p.m. and saw a couple of cars parked near the church. About 30 feet behind and to the right of the church I noticed an old gravestone standing alone and pulled near it. At the same time, another car with two older black women pulled into the lot.

I got out of my car to take a closer look at the grave marker, and the two women, having parked about 75 feet away, inquired from their car if they could help me. I walked over and explained to them that I was looking for the old Helena Church and asked if I was in the right place.

They immediately asked me my name and requested my identification. Somewhat surprised, I complied.

As they wrote down my name and driver’s license number, the pair, both of whom were in their mid- to late-60s, questioned me about why I was looking around. I told them I was interested in a certain individual, a German immigrant who had died around 1912 and who had been buried in the Helena Church cemetery. Continue reading

17th century sculpture turns up after more than a century

Bernini_Paul V

As supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Paul V was a run-of-the-mill pope. But as a posthumous subject for Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Paul was sublime.

Born Camillo Borghese of the noted Borghese family of Siena, Paul V reigned from 1605-1621. He is noted for canonizing Charles Borromeo, financing the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica and for pushing for ecclesiastical jurisdiction in foreign nations that led to numerous squabbles between the Church and secular governments.

After his death, Paul’s nephew, the powerful Cardinal Scipione Borghese, commissioned a sculpture of his uncle by Bernini, a multifaceted artisan who is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture.

The work remained in the family for approximately 275 years until 1893, when, after the family was forced to auction it off, it disappeared from the art world’s radar.

Now, 122 years later, the work is on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The Getty recently bought the sculpture privately through Sotheby’s, according to The Economist.

While it’s not entire clear what happened to the sculpture after its sale in 1893, in 1916 art historian Antonio Muñoz claimed it was in a private collection in Vienna. Still, no one knew for certain where it was until 2014, and many art historians believed the marble bust no longer existed.

According to The Economist, the work ultimately ended up in the home of a Slovakian artist, Ernest Zemtak, Bratislava, approximately an hour from Vienna.

In 2014, a decade after Zemtak’s death, his heirs sold it at auction in Bratislava, although they were unaware that it was a Bernini. It was then bought by a private collector who had a connection to Sotheby’s. With a short time, a deal between Sotheby’s and the Getty had been negotiated, though no details have been released.

“Bernini was the master of the ‘speaking likeness’,” said Timothy Potts, the director of the Getty. “He found a way of breathing life into marble, of capturing the essence of a person. Not just the physical likeness of the pope, but his personality and stature, his benevolent seriousness and living presence. It makes you go weak at the knees when you see it, even if you know nothing of the artist.”

(Top: Sculpture of Pope Paul V, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.)

Deep debate cast aside for quick decisions based on ‘perception’

FILE -- The Confederate battle flag flies near the South Carolina State Capitol building in Columbia in this file framegrab.

Over the past few days it has been stated repeatedly that the Confederate flag should be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds because it’s a racist symbol – no matter what its advocates claim – because “perception is reality.”

Certainly the Confederate battle flag was misappropriated in the 1950s and ‘60s by groups opposed to the Civil Rights movement. That these groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, also made ample use of the Stars and Stripes, seems to be of small concern to those who would like to see the Confederate flag placed in a museum.

While there’s plenty of room for debate about the role of the Confederate flag in public life, if the basis for one’s arguments includes “perception is reality,” then one is starting from a position of weakness.

History has shown that the idea that perception can be both erroneous and damaging.

Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were enforced in part because blacks were perceived by many as being inferior to whites. Most ex-slaves, thanks to law and/or custom, had never been taught to read or write. They were therefore perceived as being less intelligent than whites, even though the playing field was never close to being level.

This perception continues to hold currency even today among some, who mistakenly believe that blacks as a group don’t have the capacity to keep pace with whites and some other ethnic groups, while overlooking the fact that in many areas where African-Americans make up a significant percentage of the population substandard schooling and a history of state indifference to education are the real culprits.

Along those same lines, blacks were perceived well into the 20th century as lacking the educational skills necessary for college. At the time of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, only about 10,000 American blacks – one in 1,000 – were college educated, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Today, more than 4.5 million blacks hold a four-year college degree.

Consider also that blacks who volunteered or were drafted into the US military were discriminated against for many decades because of the perception that they were suited only for “heavy lifting” rather than positions that relied on brainpower.

At the outset of the Civil War, neither free blacks nor escaped slaves were allowed to enlist in the Union Army. The prevailing view among Union officers was that the black man lacked mental ability, discipline and courage, and could never be trained to fight like the white soldier. It would take the better part of two years before white military leaders, desperate for troops, consented to the use of black soldiers, enabling this error to be disproved.

Up into World War I, black troops were often given thankless tasks that white soldiers sought to avoid and racial segregation in the US military remained in place until after World War II.

During the latter conflict, the Navy assigned most who did enlist to mess duty and the Marines barred blacks entirely until 1942. The military as a whole held to the “perception” that blacks weren’t as good at “soldiering” as whites.

Continue reading

Carnegie Libraries: the bequest that continues to benefit

Lauren camp june 2015 009

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie provided funding for the construction of nearly 1,700 public libraries across the United States between 1886 and 1923.

Reading and libraries played a key role in Carnegie’s life, particularly during his childhood in Scotland and his teenage years in Pennsylvania. While working as telegraph operator for the Pittsburgh office of the Ohio Telegraph Co. beginning at just age 16, Carnegie borrowed books from Col. James Anderson, who opened his personal library of 400 volumes to working boys each Saturday night.

Carnegie, a self-made man, believed in giving to those who were interested in helping themselves.

After he became one of the richest men in America, he began providing funding for libraries, initially in his native Scotland, later in his adopted state of Pennsylvania, then across the nation and other parts of the world.

All Carnegie libraries were built according to a formula that required financial commitments from the towns which received donations. Carnegie required recipients to:

  • Demonstrate the need for a public library;
  • Provide the building site;
  • Annually provide 10 percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and,
  • Provide free service to all.

In areas where segregation was the de facto rule, Carnegie often had separate libraries built for minorities.

The Carnegie Library shown above is in Union, SC. It was built in 1905 at a cost of $10,000 and is one of 14 libraries Carnegie libraries funded in South Carolina.

Continue reading

Society not culpable for actions of those who commit heinous acts

Police tape is seen outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church the night before  in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2015. Police captured a white suspect in a mass killing at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest gun massacre to leave the country reeling. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

As a South Carolinian, the murder Wednesday night of nine black men and women at a historic Charleston church by a white man, an attack that appears to have had strong racial motivations, has been, to say the least, extremely disheartening.

My Facebook feed has been filled with a great deal of anguish among friends about this senseless act. As a former journalist, many of those I’m connected to see things from a different political perspective. I lean toward a libertarian stand, partly because I don’t have much faith in political parties and partly because I like to be left alone. Journalists, certainly in the US, tend to be of a more liberal bent, on the whole.

That said, I recognize the need for law and order, and the need for society to function in a cohesive manner. I also believe to some degree we are all our brother’s keepers; I just don’t believe that fact needs to be codified.

That said, Facebook friends are wringing their hands about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, with many coming to the conclusion that we are all responsible.

One linked to a column by an Atlanta Constitution editor that ran after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, killing four black girls. In that column, Gene Patterson said all Southerners were responsible by having created a climate for child-killing, thereby encouraging racists who didn’t know better.

Given what went on in the Deep South during Segregation, that may well have been true.

Late yesterday, a former co-worker said we today are guilty of the same:

“A flag that is a racist symbol, an offensive joke, an ugly fraternity chant, the N-word, disrespect for a president, black face paint at a party, and even referring to young, black males as “thugs” or “animals” when they mess up – standing by and accepting these things without taking a stand is wrong. We all share in the guilt. We just don’t know who is listening and who is close enough to the edge to decide that slaughtering black men and women in a church is a noble thing to do.”

I took time this morning to disagree, pointing my remarks toward my acquaintance:

I’m going to voice a contrarian view in that I disagree with the contention that we’re all responsible for this heinous act. The folks that I know, and I pretty sure the ones you know, don’t engage in use of the N-word, ugly fraternity chants or put on black face at parties. Goodness knows there’s plenty of political vitriol, no matter which party holds the Oval Office, but I also don’t think your friends or mine disrespect the current occupant simply because of his race. I certainly hope mine don’t. Thuggery and animalistic behavior, sadly, can be found among all races, as anyone who has lived in the northeast and, like myself, been attacked by drunken white louts for no reason. Should we not use the term at all for fear someone somewhere may attach it to a specific group of people? An example of where the word “thug” would apply is among those who use the Confederate flag, which has different meanings to different people, to intimidate. No doubt this individual didn’t come to be the person he is on his own; no one lives in a vacuum. But my parents didn’t rear me to be anything like this individual and I’m not bringing up my children in an atmosphere that sees intolerance, bigotry and prejudice as acceptable. Blaming these actions on society as a whole waters down this individual’s culpability. He committed these deviant actions for his own reasons. We’re not responsible for his actions; all we can do is pray for those affected and do our best to make the world a better place so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes we need to recognize that a bad apple is just that – a bad apple. The South of 2015 is very different from the South of 1963. Imperfect? Oh, yes. At least today people of good will are no longer afraid to stand up and made their voices heard.

(Top: Historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine individuals were killed and three wounded Wednesday night.)

The odd case of the Confederates who came in from the cold

prisoners

It’s not unheard of for the soldiers of defeated nations to continue fighting on, sometimes for years or even decades.

Usually, as in the case of Japanese troops who held out in the Pacific following World War II, such men are isolated and completely cut off from the rest of the world. They’re either unaware the war is over, or unwilling to accept the conflict’s conclusion.

Sometimes, however, reports of such incidents raise red flags.

Consider a story that first appeared in the Petersburg (Va.) Index on Aug. 15, 1866, and was reprinted in other publications, including the Chicago Tribune, in the following days.

Under the headline “The Last of the Rebel Army,” and the subhead, “Four Rebel Soldiers Surrender – They Have Just Found Out the War is Over,” the Index detailed a report that four Confederate soldiers had just turned themselves in to Federal authorities on Aug. 14, 1866, nearly 1-1/2 years after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox and nearly 15 months after the last Confederate army had capitulated.

According to the report, Anthony Monkas, Thomas Wells and James Brinberter, all of Co. E, 52nd Georgia Infantry Regiment, and Allan Tewksbury of the 43rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment, all members of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered after holding out along the Appomattox River since the first half of 1865.

According to the story, Tewksbury told Federal authorities that following the Confederate evacuation of Petersburg in the spring of 1865 he and his contingent stopped on the Appomattox, about seven miles above the city, to rest.

Realizing they were cut off, they made a vow to hold their ground and “never go home or give up until the Confederacy was completely annihilated,” according to the article in the Chicago Tribune.

They fashioned an abode on the banks of the river and lived off fish and game, and roasted ears of corn taken from nearby fields, along with the occasional pig they captured.

In the summer of 1866, “… hearing from an old negro man that the Confederacy was undoubtedly ‘gone up,’ they concluded to quit their barbarian life and surrender,” according to the report.

Continue reading