Savannah’s Carnegie Library a testament to perseverance


It’s been slightly more than a century since the Carnegie Library in Savannah, Ga., opened, offering increased access to books, learning and knowledge for blacks at the height of the Jim Crow era.

Among those who called the library home were James Allen McPherson, the first black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

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

savannah-27-2016-041In areas where segregation was in effect, particularly the Deep South, Carnegie often had separate libraries built for minorities.

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

The black residents of Savannah raised $3,000 to show their commitment, and the Carnegie Corp. contributed $12,000, according to a history of the library written on its 100th anniversary.

The Colored Library Association of Savannah had been formed in 1906 by 11 men who established the Library for Colored Citizens. Originally operating from a doctor’s office, the founders stocked the library from personal libraries and public donations of books and periodicals.

In 1913, the group successfully petitioned the Carnegie Corp. for funds to build a permanent structure, which was completed in 1915 on East Henry Street in Savannah.

The structure is one of the few examples in Georgia of what is colloquially known as Prairie School architecture, a late 19th- and early 20th-century style that included flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves and windows grouped in horizontal bands.

The structure features granite steps framed by large piers with sandstone orbs on small pedestals. The staircase is flanked by four tiered brick walls, and the corners of the piers, the band over the second-story windows and brick cornice which divides the two floors feature dark glazed bricks.

The Savannah Carnegie Library is one of just two Carnegie library projects that were built for blacks in Georgia. The other was in Atlanta and was demolished in 1960.

The Savannah City Library system was integrated in 1963 and the Savannah Carnegie library itself fell into some disrepair. In the late 1990s, its roof fell in.

In 2004, after more than $1.3 million was raised in private and public funds, the structure was reopened after being remodeled and renovated.

Among those on hand for the reopening was Thomas, a Savannah native who joined the US Supreme Court in 1991.

Thomas told the Savannah Morning News at the time of the reopening that as a youngster he was often told, “’The man’ ain’t going to let you do nothing.”

But he recalled that Carnegie librarians had a more positive message: “If you get (knowledge) here, no one can take it away.”

“The librarians made it all possible,” he added.

Microaggressions: If you don’t confess, you’re guilty


The more one reads stories about political correctness run amok on college campuses, the more one begins to see parallels with the old Soviet Union.

A recent story in the New York Times profiled campus efforts to, among other things, stamp out “microaggressions.”

Among tips offered by Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University in Massachusetts, is a prohibition on the term “you guys,” as it could be interpreted as leaving out women.

This, the Times reported, was an epiphany for Clark student Noelia Martinez, a Massachusetts resident who was born in Puerto Rico to Dominican parents.

Martinez “realized that she, too, was guilty of microaggressions, because she frequently uses the phrase ‘you guys,’ she said. ‘This helped me see that I’m a microaggressor, too.’”

How much further down the rabbit hole do we have to go before we end up at something akin to the Moscow Show Trials of the mid- to late-1930s, when senior Soviet officials publicly confessed to acts they had never committed, with the full understanding that they would be executed.

“I end as a traitor to my party, a traitor who must be shot,” former Soviet official Sergei Mrachkovsky confessed on Aug. 22, 1936, admitting that he played a role in the assassination of prominent Bolshevik Sergey Kirov in 1934 and had “organized a number of terrorist groups who made preparations to assassinate Comrades Stalin” and others.

In reality, it’s almost a certainty that Stalin himself ordered Kirov’s execution, and that the subsequent show trials and purges enabled Stalin to eliminate nearly the entire old Bolshevik guard, completing his consolidation of power.

Mrachkovsky and the hundreds of others who publicly confessed to all manner of crimes against the state had, in reality, done nothing of the sort. They were bullied into confessing, realizing they had no other choice.

While we’re still a long way from what ultimately took place in the Soviet Union, we seem all too happy to lurch along the path of philosophical myopia that shackles intellectual freedom.

The opening paragraph of the Times story begins with the following exchange between Marlowe and an unnamed freshman during a presentation at Clark:

“‘When I, as a white female,’ the freshman asks, ‘listen to music that uses the N word, and I’m in the car, or, especially when I’m with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?’

“The answer, from Sheree Marlowe … is an unequivocal ‘no.’”

This seems … odd. No question, the “N word” has a convoluted and troubling history. It’s a repellent word and one that normally shouldn’t be uttered at all except for academic or literary reasons.

But if it’s in a popular song, are all whites supposed to skip the word if they sing along? Who’s to say that they should even be allowed to listen to a song containing the word? Wouldn’t that be considered a “microaggression” to some?

If that seems like a reach, consider that diversity awareness is big business, and it’s growing. About 75 chief diversity officers have been hired by colleges and universities in the past 18 months, according to the Times.

Unfortunately, these are often individuals who would appear to have a vested interest in fostering a culture of victimization, in order to create job security. The more “microaggressions” that can be detailed, the more need for chief diversity officers, and bigger budgets.

Diversity has become a plum fiefdom that no one dares call out for fear of being labeled intolerant.

In reality, most college students, at least until recently, were able to negotiate relatively easily the differences that sometimes occur when happening upon individuals different from themselves. They didn’t need “safety spaces” or to be cautioned about “trigger warnings.”

Open bigotry was identified for what it was, while simply misunderstandings were usually hashed out through conversation or observation. It wasn’t perfect, and, yes, there were always a handful of jackasses around who hadn’t been reared properly.

But to hear diversity officers talk today, though, campuses are rife not only with rampant subtle cultural insensitivity, but overt racism.

There are no honest mistakes, of course, and all misdeeds must be confessed to and punished.

How long before the diversity police begin to demand Show Trials?

The sordid reason Rhode Island abolished the death penalty

old rhode island statehouse

Spend any time in Rhode Island and you quickly learn a few things: It’s not an island; it would appear to have the most corruption per capita outside of Sicily; and for such a small entity the Ocean State has more than its fair share of interesting stories.

Consider that Rhode Island hasn’t executed anyone in more than 170 years. Part of the reason is that the last man to die at the hands of the state was almost certainly railroaded, a victim of anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant bigotry that was prevalent in many areas of the United States into the 20th century.

This particular story begins on Dec. 31, 1843, when textile magnate Amasa Sprague finished supper at his Cranston, RI, mansion and went for a walk. Sprague was powerful both in physique and prominence.

He was a New England Brahmin, and together with his brother William owned a textile business started by his father William Sprague Sr. The Spragues owned several cotton mills in Rhode Island, but their most profitable factory was the print works in nearby Spragueville, which printed calico patterns on cloth.

The A & W Sprague Co. employed most residents of Spragueville, owned the tenements they rented and the company store where they shopped. He was a man to be feared.

During Sprague’s after-dinner walk, he was accosted by at least two individuals. He was shot in the right wrist and struck with a blunt instrument in the left side of his head, then his right. Despite desperate attempts to fight back, Sprague was overcome and killed.

There was no shortage of potential suspects, according to the New England Historical Society.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

Logo of A & W Sprague Co., showing Cranston, RI, textile plant.

There was talk that the murder was politically motivated. The previous year, an individual named Thomas Dorr had been arrested for a failed attempt to force broader democracy in Rhode Island by setting up a rival government that would expand the vote to all adult white males.

Still governed by the state’s 1663 colonial charter with its relatively high property requirement for suffrage, Rhode Island allowed only white, propertied men – about a third of adult male population – to vote. The Irish, who were nearly all disfranchised under the colonial charter, strongly supported the Dorr Rebellion.

Sprague, like many wealthy white males, benefited from the system in place and, along with his brother William and brother-in-law Emanuel Rice, helped orchestrate Dorr’s downfall. Some speculated that supporters of Thomas Dorr, who would later be found guilty of treason against the state, assassinated Amasa Sprague, according to the New England Historical Society.

Others looked closer to home. William and Amasa Sprague apparently disagreed about what direction the family business should take. William wanted to expand the company beyond Rhode Island, while Amasa was content to continue the business at its current size and profitability. Neither man had a reputation for backing down when they didn’t get their way.

Suspicion also fell upon Nicholas Gordon, a tavern owner whose establishment was frequented by Sprague’s millworkers, much to Amasa Sprague’s displeasure.

Gordon’s tavern was attached to his home and was located in a section of Cranston, which, in the decidedly indelicate sensitivities that were prevalent in 19th century America, was nicknamed “Monkeytown” because of its Irish population.

“Amasa Sprague had successfully fought against renewing Gordon’s liquor license because, he said, his Irish millworkers were getting drunk during work hours and neglecting their jobs,” according to the New England Historical Society. “Gordon and Sprague had fought publicly. Sprague and Gordon had once met on a path and neither refused to give way. Finally Sprague grabbed Gordon by the collar and shouted, ‘Get out of the way, you damned Irishman!’”

The entire case was a fiasco from beginning to end. William Sprague resigned his senate seat to supervise the murder investigation, an apparent conflict of interest.

Not only was Nicholas Gordon quickly arrested, along with his younger brothers, John and William, the Gordon’s mother and a friend of Nicholas’ named Michael O’Brien – because everyone knew the Irish always stuck together – but the Gordon’s dog was apprehended, as well. (The dog was later described by a defense attorney as toothless and old.)

William and John were tried first, with the Irish community rallying behind them and raising funds for their defense.

Ultimately, it was 29-year-old John Gordon, recently arrived from Ireland to join his brothers Nicholas and William, who took the fall for the crime. William was found not guilty, but John was found guilty despite a conviction based on contradictory circumstantial evidence.

How badly were the cards stacked against John Gordon?

In trials held at the then-Rhode Island Statehouse, Presiding judge Job Durfee told jurors to give greater weight to Yankee witnesses than Irish witnesses. He added that they did not have to believe anything that the Irish witnesses for the defense said because they were by their nature unable to tell the truth, according to a 2013 report on the sordid affair by the Cranston Herald.

In addition, Henry Bowen Anthony, the editor of the Providence Journal, the leading news source for Rhode Island at the time, provided the public with plenty of “facts” about Gordon’s guilt, even though many were asserted without a shred of truth to them, the Herald added.

One of the pieces of evidence that convicted John was a broken gun found near the body of Amasa Sprague. Nicholas was known to own a gun, but it couldn’t be found in his house, so it was assumed the broken gun was his. After the trial it was discovered that William had hidden Nicholas’ gun under the attic floorboards, according to the New England Historical Society.

Nicholas was tried later, but he had an alibi and the witnesses who convicted his brother were suddenly unsure of their memories. His trial ended in a hung jury. His gun turned up just before his second trial, which also ended in a hung jury.

John Gordon was hanged on Feb. 14, 1845, in Providence. His last words were, “I hope all good Christians will pray for me.”

Many believed he was innocent and the victim of a legal lynching. Some 1,400 Irish came from Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts for his funeral. The procession took a detour to pass the Statehouse and the homes of the Yankee elite.

Seven years later, the Rhode Island legislature banned capital punishment, in part because of the travesty of John Gordon’s trial.

In 2011, 166 years after John Gordon was hanged by the state of Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee pardoned him.

“John Gordon was put to death after a highly questionable judicial process and based on no concrete evidence,” Chafee said in 2011. “There is no question he was not given a fair trial.”

(Old Rhode Island Statehouse, Providence, where John Gordon and his brothers were tried for the murder of Amasa Sprague.)

Easily offended Ivy Leaguers look to dumb down curriculum


One does so tire of college elites bleating about being “oppressed” by administrators’ failure to be “inclusive” when crafting courses.

Among recent squawking is that from special snowflakes at Yale, who have launched a petition calling on the Ivy League school’s English department to abolish a core course requirement to study canonical writers, including Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, stating “it is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors,” according to The Guardian.

It would appear that Yale English students, despite being an undoubtedly bright bunch, aren’t capable of picking up the works of, say, Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel García Márquez, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, Edith Wharton or Richard Wright on their own.

Yale requires English majors to spend two semesters studying a selection of authors it labels “major English poets”: Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Donne in the fall; John Milton, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, and TS Eliot “or another modern poet” in the spring. (Presumably the other modern poet could be a non-white, non-male writer, but that wouldn’t fit the agenda of the easily aggrieved.)

Its intention, the university says, “is to provide all students with a generous introduction to the abiding formal and thematic concerns of the English literary tradition.” The poems the students read, it adds, “take up questions and problems that resonate throughout the whole of English literature: the status of vernacular language, the moral promise and perils of fiction, the relationships between men and women, the nature of heroism, the riches of tradition and the yearning to make something new.”

To combat this pernicious patriarchal authoritarianism Yale students have launched a petition calling on the institution to “decolonize” the course.

“They want the university to abolish the major English poets requirement, and to refocus the course’s pre-1800/1900 requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity,” according to The Guardian.

The petition says that “a year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity,” and that the course “creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.”

Actually, Yale has a wide variety of English courses that focus specifically on women and people of color, along with some that touch on queer issues.

These include English 10: Jane Austen; English 239: Women Writers from the Restoration to Romanticism; English 291: The American Novel Since 1945, which includes works by Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison and Alison Bechdel; English 292: Imagining Sexual Politics, 1960s to the Present, which involves a historical survey of “fiction, poetry drama and creative nonfiction that have shaped and responded to feminist, queer and transgender thought since the start of second-wave feminism”; English 293: Race and Gender in America; English 306: American Artists and the African American Book; English 313: Poetry and Political Sensibility; English 326: The Spectacle of Disability, which examines how people with disabilities are treated in US literature and culture; English 334: Postcolonial World Literature, 1945-present; English 352: Asian American Literature; English 445: Ralph Ellison in Context; English 446: Virginia Woolf; and English 945: Black Literature and US Liberalism.

But, of course, students would have to enroll in additional courses beyond the basic two currently required to partake in the above. It would appear the “persecuted” are trying to change the school’s approach to teaching English rather than simply signing up for an additional class or two.

One student went so far as to write in the Yale Daily News that the school’s English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history” by having two of its foundational courses in English focus on “canonical works that actively oppress and marginalize non-white, non-male, trans and queer people.”

I’ve read some of the above major English poets and fail to see how their works create “a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.” But, being a middle class white male, I suppose I couldn’t possibly understand what’s offensive to a group of late teens and young twenty-somethings at one of the most select, politically correct universities in the world.

What’s more likely going on is that a collection of vocal Yale undergraduates have tired of being forced to read Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare, et al. To be fair, these writers can be difficult to slog through, what with their penchant for archaic language and use of such tricky literary devices as allegories and soliloquies.

But instead of buckling down and becoming better readers and writers by understanding what the great English poets of the past had to say when they put pen to paper, they’d rather accuse the school of “harming students.”

I’ll say this for Yale English students: They may not be too resilient when it comes to holding up under the yoke of great literature, but they’ve got a bright future in the area of creative thinking.

Remembering the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, 150+ years later

boykin mill pond

Boykin, SC, a rural community of 100 people located east of Columbia, is known for an eclectic Christmas parade, a grist mill that began operation in the 18th century, a skirmish that took place in the waning days of the War Between the States, a shop that sells handmade brooms and a handful of small restaurants housed in 19th century structures.

It’s also the site of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy, which occurred on May 5, 1860, when at least two dozen individuals drowned while on a pleasure cruise.

More than 50 people, including several young children, set out on a flatboat on the 400-acre pond. The disaster began when the boat was said to have struck a stump.

Ralph Leland Goodrich, a New Yorker teaching in Camden in the early months of 1860, detailed the events in his diary: “No immediate danger was apprehended, but then the boat began to take on water. Watching from shore, their friends gradually stopped laughing and eating and then began to panic. Some few tried to swim out to them but it was too late. Most of those on the boat were young women and girls, whose skirts became extremely heavy as the boat began to sink. The boys on board tried to help, but most went down in a single mass, clinging to each other as drowning victims do.”

It’s possible the disaster might have been averted had the passengers not panicked, but when they noticed the flatboat taking on water, everyone moved en masse to one end and the boat tipped, dumping all into the water.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 6, 1860.

Gravestone of Mary Ann Young in Rembert Methodist Church cemetery, which details her death at Boykin Mill Pond, May 5, 1860.

Rembert Methodist Church

The names of the individuals who lost their lives in the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy as well as Goodrich’s details are part of CSI: Dixie, a project of the Center for Virtual History at the University of Georgia, which collected 1,582 coroners’ reports from six Upstate South Carolina counties for the years 1800-1900.

The findings of the coroners’ inquest for the victims of the Boykin Mill Pond tragedy is short, if not sweet.

For Amelia A. Alexander, 20, of Camden, SC, it reads: “… upon their oaths do say that the said Amelia A. Alexander came to her death by accidental drowning in the millpond of A.H. Boykin … by sinking of a Flat caused by the weight of between fifty-three & fifty-six persons.”

At least four sets of siblings lost their lives in the tragedy, including Samuel Young, 7; Mary Ann Young, 11; and Hollie Young, who would have turned 19 the following day.

Goodrich wrote of following a wagon-load of four bodies that “all went to the same house,” according to CSI: Dixie.

He helped dress the corpses as the mother “whose almost every child was gone,” wailed ‘“& these too, & these too?’” over and over. Her “grief could not be measured,” he later wrote.

Several of the victims are buried in Camden’s Quaker Cemetery while a handful of others are buried in the graveyard at Rembert Methodist Church, in neighboring Lee County. Others were buried in family plots whose location is unknown at present.

The number of deaths isn’t definitive; while at least one slave was among the dead in the coroner’s report, it is believed others may have been onboard and lost their lives, as well, but gone uncounted.

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal)

(Top: View of Boykin Mill Pond; below: grist mill that gets power from Boykin Mill Pond.)


Political posturing, emotional rants won’t help refugees

Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

It’s difficult to say if the world we live in is any more polarized than that of the past, or if social media has simply magnified the chasms that exist, leaving the appearance of a stark black and white realm when reality has always been varying shades of gray.

Take the Syrian refugee crisis. While many US governors practically tumbled over each other in the race to demand that no Syrian refugees be allowed to settle in their states, some on the other side were insistent that any denial of US asylum was outright racism.

Both are unfortunate and ill-considered stands. The first I attribute to political posturing. Certainly, it’s not possible or wise to allow a mass influx of immigrants from any nation without proper vetting. That doesn’t mean you shut your borders, however. You certainly don’t rope off your borders to individuals from a specific country because of the actions of one or a few, or because the majority of the individuals in that country are of a specific religion.

Humanitarian crises demand extraordinary responses, and the US and other Western nations should step up efforts to aid those in need while ensuring the safety of all concerned. Simply slamming the door shut on those either forced from their country or who have left out of fear is not an appropriate response.

On the other hand, we have those who misrepresent the past to manipulate individuals’ feelings in a bid to push an agenda.

Consider this headline from a distasteful story that attacks those in the US for failing to open its arms to all Syrian refugees, no questions asked: “Anne Frank Literally Died Because of America’s Anti-Refugee Stance”.

John Prager, writing for the online publication Addicting Info, states that Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, was denied a visa by the United States, preventing he and his family from escaping the Nazi noose that was tightening around Jews in Europe.

The Franks were captured by the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1944 and Anne and most her family perished, with Anne and her sister Margot dying at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945. Because the US didn’t give the Franks a visa, it is responsible for the family’s death, Prager asserts.

While I find repugnant the attitude of politicians who flat-out refuse to take Syrian refugees, I also despise the above one-dimensional thinking that, in effect, calls today’s conservative US politicians “bigoted and hateful anti-Semit(es),” according to Prager’s article. (As Prager condescendingly points out, “Yes, conservatives, Arabs are Semitic people.)

The fact is, Anne Frank “literally” died because of the Nazis’ policy of exterminating Jews. American anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in other countries, and a general unwillingness to open US borders to the tens of millions of other individuals who were displaced or endangered by the Nazis (and Soviets) is a sad reality of the 1930s and ’40s, and one hopes that today’s generation will not repeat the same mistakes.

But the US, for all its many flaws, was not “literally” responsible for the death of Anne Frank or other Jews who perished between 1933 and 1945.

We could have done more, much more, but we didn’t deploy Einsatzgruppen to kill hundreds of thousands throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe, we didn’t set up concentration camps and death camps, and we didn’t transport millions in cattle cars from Nazi-created ghettos to those camps, where they were gassed or otherwise killed.

Ultimately, it was the US and other Allied nations that stopped the Nazi death machine.

Prager’s appeal to emotion doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, and it doesn’t help us solve the problem at hand.

(Top: Syrian refugees, fleeing violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq two years ago.)

Interracial couple survived Reconstruction, Jim Crow

bedenbaugh house

A 155-year-old structure located in rural South Carolina embodies the conflicted racial legacy evident in South Carolina and possibly other parts of the South, if not the nation.

The Jacob Bedenbaugh House, built around 1860, isn’t noteworthy for its age or its architectural style. Described as a detached two-story traditional “I” house with a modified L-shaped plan, the dwelling, in serious need of restoration, is located along a country highway about five miles east of Prosperity, SC.

What prompted the US Department of the Interior to the place the home on the National Register of Historic Places is the individuals who lived in the structure during its first 55-75 years.

Jacob Belton Bedenbaugh was a white South Carolinian born in 1833. His common-law wife Sarah Bedenbaugh, described as mulatto, was initially a slave purchased by Jacob. Sometime between 1860 and 1864, the two entered into a relationship.

Despite the increasing difficulties inherent with pursuing an interracial relationship in the Deep South in the years following the Civil War – not that it was a walk in the park during or before – the Bedenbaughs remained together in the house as a couple from at least 1864 until Jacob’s death in 1915 and had eight children.

But going against prevailing social mores didn’t come without a price. In July 1890, they were indicted and tried for “fornication” due to the fact that they living together. Being an interracial couple undoubtedly contributed to the decision to prosecute.

It’s unclear from a search of the Internet what the outcome of the case was, but one should bear in mind that South Carolina’s political climate was changing rapidly in 1890 as the Conservatives who had come to power in 1877 following the end of Reconstruction were about to be turned out of office by populist Ben Tillman, who was elected later that year, and his supporters.

Tillman, a virulent racist, was a leading force behind the state’s 1895 constitution, which solidified Jim Crowism in the state and, among other things, prohibited interracial marriage.

Legally, the couple could have married during the war, Reconstruction and immediate-post Reconstruction period, provided they had been able to find a minister willing to perform the service, but the Tillman Constitution forever barred Jacob and Sarah Bedenbaugh from being wedded.

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