Thanks TPM Café Book Club for inviting me to discuss Norrell's "Up From History." In this substantial and well-written new biography of Booker T. Washington, Norrell vividly describes the increasingly vicious landscape of white supremacy in the American South in the decades after Reconstruction. In doing so he effectively demonstrates the constraints within which Washington worked. The potency of antiblack hatred was such that any sort of advance advocated or practiced by Washington or any southern African American was fraught with danger. This, for Norrell describes the limited nature of Washington's avowed program, and the necessity of acting in secret for anything beyond that. Thus the strong criticism to which Washington was subject at the time and since then are misguided and unjust.
I came away with a greater appreciation of the extraordinary range of Washington's activities and of the enormous obstacles he faced. I am left with both historical and political questions, but for this post I'll concentrate on the historical. I am not fully convinced by the strong claims about historical inevitability which are at the heart of the book.
To begin with, the fact of white racial constraints does not lead directly to an explanation of why Washington advocated certain courses of action and not others. In Norrell's account, Washington faced hostility and opposition no matter what he did. The establishment and subsequent growth of the Tuskegee Institute was taken as a threat by local and regional whites. Indeed, as he shows, the very idea of industrial education was itself attacked repeatedly throughout Washington's career. He was also threatened by white southerners for involving himself in the Republican party and influencing many of Roosevelt's appointments. There are other examples here, but the point is that Washington was criticized and threatened for any number of things he did even as he became a national celebrity, and the unquestioned spokesperson for black America. If this is true, then perhaps he had more agency than Norrell gives him credit for. In other words his denigration of political struggle and his public call to eschew the fight for social equality was, in fact, more of a choice than a constraint. It was certainly consistent with his economic philosophy. Seen this way, it does not seem at all unreasonable for Ida Wells, DuBois, Monroe Trotter and others to criticize his accommodationism, and to oppose the central tenets of his message to both blacks and whites. For them, this extraordinarily powerful leader was advocating one set of strategies that would therefore shut out others. And in an age of white terror and black civil death, there was much at stake in which path one chose. As Washington's black critics argued at the time, black acquisition of property was meaningless absent the concomitant struggle for political rights, because without it there was nothing to stop that property from being taken at gunpoint, nothing to stop the lynching of blacks who were able to advance economically.
Another question about historical inevitability is raised by Norrell's post. If I understand right, he argues that Washington did what was in the realm of the possible at a time when political change had simply been foreclosed. Then, as later in the post-civil rights era, the U.S. was in its "more normative state, when reform comes slowly, in small increments." Perhaps it is true that political agitation does not immediately lead to change, but agitation in one moment can have crucial effects later on. Critics of Washington's reconciling and materialist strategy founded the NAACP, which as we know had an enormous impact on racial politics across the twentieth century. Then as now, what constitutes the possible is never a foregone conclusion.
SPECTER: National Chairman Steele, well he?s said so many contradictory things I wouldn?t pay a whole lot of attention to him.
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During the March 10 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jane Skinner hosted Republican strategist Danny Diaz, who criticized "Democrats and their union friends" for "pushing legislation like 'card check' legislation" -- the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- at the expense of the economy. However, at no point did Fox News disclose Diaz's affiliation with the Workforce Fairness Institute, an organization whose website states that it "is funded by and advocates on behalf of business[...]
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Howard Madoff Enters Guilty Plea on the ConditionThat ‘Ponzi Scheme’ Be Renamed ‘Madoff Scheme’in His Honor
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Jon Stewart reminds CNBC's Jim Cramer of bad investment advice. Cramer had advised his viewers to buy Bear Stearns stock seven weeks before it collapsed.
One of the constants in the last few months of economic meltdown has been the attempts at projecting an aura of calm certainty by various public officials and rabidly rose-colored financial reporters whose fondest wish was to not spook investors, whether[...]
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Yesterday kos introduced the Kos Fellowship Program, writing:
I've been at this gig for seven years, and one of the most frustrating things I've seen is the amount of talent available to the progressive commnunity, yet ignored because it happens to live outside of the established power centers (DC, LA, NYC), or doesn't hang out in the same circles as the big donors. Sometimes these outside efforts are even met with hostility.
Some people have managed to persevere, like most of the top bloggers, the folks at ActBlue, Drinking Liberally, and so on. But there are far more more talented folks out there with great ideas and passion for building a broad-based, grassroots-centric progressive movement that toil in anonymity, or give up because of lack of assistance and acknowledgment. It's imperative that we harness that energy and continue infusing our movement with new talent, new ideas, new technologies, new strategies, and new tactics. We cannot become as closed and insular as movements before ours.
There is enormous talent in the netroots community, talent that needs relatively little in terms of nurturing to make it grow. That was the idea behind the Kos Fellowship Program (KFP), to make the most of the entrepreneurial spirit that created the netroots and has made it grow. That energy, harnessed, focused, and--mostly importantly--funded and sustained, will build the "broad-based, grassroots-centric" movement that kos envisions.
To that end, we're doing what we do best--grow from the ground up. Yesterday, in comments to kos's post, srkp23 approvingly said that this was her idea of trickle down. But it's better than trickle down--it's not the largesse of some billionaire being bestowed upon our humble heads (not that we wouldn't be happy to take a donation or grant from a billionaire!)--it's a bubbling up. That's how Netroots Nation, Drinking Liberally, ActBlue--all of the success stories the netroots has created so far--have happened, from the ground up. We made it happen, our ideas, our energy, our shoestring funding.
But it's time that we graduated from shoestrings to real money. That's going to have to happen from the ground up, too, in the best tradition of the netroots--with your help.
You'll be investing in brand-new, leading edge projects, but more so in the people who have the vision and the ability to make those projects happen. We're not building a bureaucracy, but creating flexible fellowships for talented people who came out of the netroots environment--an environment that's bootstrap, nimble, and enterpreneurial. The chosen fellows will have access to training, networking, and brainstorming sessions with other fellows and with leaders in the movement. They'll also receive a living-wage montly stipend for the length of their term or once their organization is established enough provide an income.
You'll be investing in Kos fellows, but you'll also be investing in a netroots community member--us.
That's an incredible opportunity to realize a dream, one that a handful of us has been lucky enough to experience in the first iteration of the program. You'll hear from some of these past fellows in the next few days. But, as someone who's also benefitted from the experience, let me tell you that it's changed my life drastically, and all for the better. It's allowed me to focus on my area of interest--the Mountain West--and expand my knowledge, experience, and expertise in the region. That's informed my writing and will help me build my next project, a western states progressive think tank.
It's obviously a tough time out there for all of us, and a difficult time to launch a new project that depends upon donations for its success. But this program is going to be key to expanding, and solidifying, our reach. Your donations are tax deductible, thanks to our fiscal sponsorship from the Tides Center.
You'll be hearing more from us over the next week or so, and the stories from some of the people who've been helped already, including Chris Bowers, who will fill you in on all of the details about the Take Flight microgrants program.
These stories will demonstrate the value of making an investment in the people that are making our movement grow and that will. Please consider donating, and if your budget allows, a recurring contribution. Even $5 a month adds up.
One is the fact that historians such as C. Vann Woodward and Louis Harlan championed protest as the way to deal with mistreatment of African-Americans. Their "presentism" (viewing the past through the lens of their times) made Booker T. Washington's efforts to accommodate Southern whites look like a weak and losing strategy, even though it may have been the only one that could have enabled an institution like Tuskegee to survive.
The second and related flaw is that historians interpreted Washington's strategy not merely as unwise but also as morally wrong, even cowardly--and thus Washington himself as morally lacking. He was, said Harlan curtly, "schooled in slavery, trained to moderation, accustomed to compromise." Harlan also described Washington as a "feral, power-hungry" man, head of the "octopus-like Tuskegee Machine," a man of "multiple personalities" and "no quintessence. At the center of his intellectual maze was a hall of mirrors...."
To Norrell, however, the evidence about Washington's life is consistent with quite a different character--that of an upright man committed to doing what he could to make former slaves a secure and successful part of American society in the South. Norrell believes that the historians overlooked the viciousness of the environment in which Washington lived.
It is strange that Woodward and Harlan should take so little account of the dangers that blacks risked in the South, but that seems to be the case--just as W.E.B. Du Bois and other detractors challenged Washington's strategy from the comfortable distance of a northern city. The South was anything but comfortable for blacks. There were 200 lynchings per year--Norrell describes the gruesome details of one--and race riots in Atlanta and Wilmington (that is, riots in which blacks were the victims). Local whites held the power; many whites fiercely resisted any education of blacks; the federal government made clear it was not going to step in; and humiliating stereotypes filled the press of the day. Yet in this hostile atmosphere, Booker T. Washington was able to provide education--and hope--to American blacks. Surely there is an element of heroism there.
In April 2007, the Supreme Court mandated that the EPA determine whether greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare and take action in response. After more than a year of resistance, the EPA released a document of staff findings, which was then quickly attacked by White House political appointees. They also resisted finalizing taking any actions. Today, Greenwire (sub. req’d) published an internal EPA presentation showing that the Obama administration is “fast-tracking” its response to the 2007 ruling, with plans to release its findings in mid-April:
To expand to public health, EPA plans to make connections between climate change and everything from temperatures to air quality and expanded ranges of vector-borne and tick-borne diseases.
The EPA document said dealing with public health and welfare had “solid legal defensibility.”
The Obama EPA’s analysis is significant; the Bush ruling ignored global warming’s effects on public health, focusing only on “welfare and the links between greenhouse gases and visibility, weather, crop damage and soil.” View the slide show here.