Happy Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi!

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the late 1920's. Gandhi started the ultimate 'Shop Local' movement, in which he called on his fellow Indians to wear only homespun, locally made fabrics to counteract the British colonialist's exploitation of Indian textile worker

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the late 1920’s. Gandhi started the ultimate ‘Shop Local’ movement in which he called on his fellow Indians to wear only homespun, locally made fabrics to counteract British colonialist’s policies which impoverished and nearly destroyed India’s textile industry. I founded an apparel and accessory line and boutique in the early 2000’s based on the same principles, carrying only locally and US-made products as an alternative to buying goods made in overseas sweatshops whose workers were unprotected by labor laws. Gandhi’s and my own approach were nationalistic and protectionist, which I no longer believe goes far enough in promoting equal human rights for all. While such approaches may be a good place to start in some circumstances, a better way to go about improving the lives and prospects of workers around the world is to require our governments to institute more comprehensive labor laws and rigorously enforce them. This must include holding companies responsible for the abuses of their contractors, of course, to actually be effective. But Gandhi did, I think, point us down the right path, towards consciousness about what we buy, why we buy it, and how our market decisions effect others.

There are very few non-Americans, outside of our mother country of Britain and our godmother France, who have had a greater impact on the history of the United States and our attitudes towards human rights than the incomparable Mahatma Gandhi. For someone who preached simplicity, often wearing nothing but a loincloth, weaving his own fabric, and living a severely rustic lifestyle to exemplify his own teachings, Gandhi was a very complicated person.

He was a human rights activist, politician, journalist, social and religious reformer, and to many, a sort of messiah. Originally a British loyalist, Gandhi’s studies and personal observations led him to change his own views, often radically, many times over the course of his long life. His beliefs in the revolutionary and morally suasive power of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance were and continue to be particularly influential in the United States, beginning with the mid-20th century civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi’s intellectual and spiritual descendant, emerged as the leader of this movement following his role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. King’s and Gandhi’s ideas about the civil disobedience and non-violence, in turn, both incorporate Henry David Thoreau’s ideas from his landmark essay ‘Civil Disobedience’.

Here are excerpts on Gandhi’s influence on the American civil rights movement from the encyclopedia of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University:

‘Upon his death, Mohandas K. Gandhi was hailed by the London Times as ‘‘the most influential figure India has produced for generations’’ (‘‘Mr. Gandhi’’). Gandhi protested against racism in South Africa and colonial rule in India using nonviolent resistance. A testament to the revolutionary power of nonviolence, Gandhi’s approach directly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., who argued that the Gandhian philosophy was ‘‘the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom’’ (Papers 4:478)…

Gandhi was born 2 October 1869, in Porbandar, in the western part of India, to Karamchand Gandhi, chief minister of Porbandar, and his wife Putlibai, a devout Hindu. At the age of 18, Gandhi began training as a lawyer in England. After completing his barrister’s degree he returned to India in 1891, but was unable to find well-paid work. In 1893, he accepted a one-year contract to do legal work for an Indian firm in South Africa, but remained for 21 years. It was in South Africa that Gandhi was first exposed to official racial prejudice, and where he developed his philosophy of nonviolent direct action by organizing the Indian community there to oppose race-based laws and socioeconomic repression.

Gandhi returned to India in 1914. In 1919, British authorities issued the Rowlatt Acts, policies that permitted the incarceration without trial of Indians suspected of sedition. In response, Gandhi called for a day of national fasting, meetings, and suspension of work on 6 April 1919, as an act of satyagraha (literally, truth-force or love-force), a form of nonviolent resistance. He suspended the campaign of nonviolent resistance a few days later because protestors had responded violently to the police.

Within the next few years, Gandhi reshaped the existing Indian National Congress into a mass movement promoting Indian self-rule through a boycott of British goods and institutions…’ (Continue reading)

I’ve included a list of links of many excellent online sources on Gandhi below, including journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchen’s critique. Gandhi did, at times, express ideas and make decisions that many regard as problematic to this day, such as his early rhetoric on black Africans and his relations with some of the women in his life, including his wife Kasturba. Gandhi was no plaster saint: like the rest of us, he struggled to find truth and meaning in a world of mutually contradictory yet worthy-seeming values, principles, and goals; sometimes, like the rest of us, he didn’t get it right, and sometimes, he was very, very wrong. True understanding, I believe, is never reached through uncritical hero worship, even of one as influential, internationally revered, and I believe ultimately beneficial to the intellectual, activist, and political history of human rights as Gandhi.

Appreciating Gandhi Through His Human Side ~ by Hari Kunzru for the New York Times‘ Books of the Times, Mar 29, 2011

Civil Disobedience ~ by Kimberley Brownlee for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience ~ from the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Gandhi the Philosopher: Better Known as the Face of Non-violent Protest, Gandhi Was Also a Surprising, Subtle Philosopher in the Stoic Tradition ~ by Richard Sorabji for Aeon

In Search of Gandhi ~ by Lalit Vachani, from BBC’s Radio Four Storyville Why Democracy? series

Life of Gandhi ~ a documentary by GandhiServe Foundation: Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service.

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948) and India Trip (1959)two entries from Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Global Freedom Struggle: Encyclopedia of the MLK Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

Mohandas Gandhi ~ by Salman Rushdie for Time magazine, Apr 13, 1998

The Real Mahatma Gandhi: Questioning the Moral Heroism of India’s Most Revered Figure ~ by Christopher Hitchens for The Atlantic, July/August 2011 issue.

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!!

Happy Birthday, Mahatma Gandhi!

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the late 1920's. Gandhi started the ultimate 'Shop Local' movement, in which he called on his fellow Indians to wear only homespun, locally made fabrics to counteract the British colonialist's exploitation of Indian textile worker

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the late 1920’s. Gandhi started the ultimate ‘Shop Local’ movement in which he called on his fellow Indians to wear only homespun, locally made fabrics to counteract British colonialist’s policies which impoverished and nearly destroyed India’s textile industry. I founded an apparel and accessory line and boutique in the early 2000’s based on the same principles, carrying only locally and US-made products as an alternative to buying goods made in overseas sweatshops whose workers were unprotected by labor laws. Gandhi’s and my own approach were nationalistic and protectionist, which I no longer believe goes far enough in promoting equal human rights for all. While such approaches may be a good place to start in some circumstances, a better way to go about improving the lives and prospects of workers around the world is to require our governments to institute more comprehensive labor laws and rigorously enforce them. This must include holding companies responsible for the abuses of their contractors, of course, to actually be effective. But Gandhi did, I think, point us down the right path, towards consciousness about what we buy, why we buy it, and how our market decisions effect others.

There are very few non-Americans, outside of our mother country of Britain and our godmother France, who have had a greater impact on the history of the United States and our attitudes towards human rights than the incomparable Mahatma Gandhi. For someone who preached simplicity, often wearing nothing but a loincloth, weaving his own fabric, and living a severely rustic lifestyle to exemplify his own teachings, Gandhi was a very complicated person.

He was a human rights activist, politician, journalist, social and religious reformer, and to many, a sort of messiah. Originally a British loyalist, Gandhi’s studies and personal observations led him to change his own views, often radically, many times over the course of his long life. His beliefs in the revolutionary and morally suasive power of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance were and continue to be particularly influential in the United States, beginning with the mid-20th century civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi’s intellectual and spiritual descendant, emerged as the leader of this movement following his role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. King’s and Gandhi’s ideas about the civil disobedience and non-violence, in turn, both incorporate Henry David Thoreau’s ideas from his landmark essay ‘Civil Disobedience’.

Here are excerpts on Gandhi’s influence on the American civil rights movement from the encyclopedia of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University:

‘Upon his death, Mohandas K. Gandhi was hailed by the London Times as ‘‘the most influential figure India has produced for generations’’ (‘‘Mr. Gandhi’’). Gandhi protested against racism in South Africa and colonial rule in India using nonviolent resistance. A testament to the revolutionary power of nonviolence, Gandhi’s approach directly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., who argued that the Gandhian philosophy was ‘‘the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom’’ (Papers 4:478)…

Gandhi was born 2 October 1869, in Porbandar, in the western part of India, to Karamchand Gandhi, chief minister of Porbandar, and his wife Putlibai, a devout Hindu. At the age of 18, Gandhi began training as a lawyer in England. After completing his barrister’s degree he returned to India in 1891, but was unable to find well-paid work. In 1893, he accepted a one-year contract to do legal work for an Indian firm in South Africa, but remained for 21 years. It was in South Africa that Gandhi was first exposed to official racial prejudice, and where he developed his philosophy of nonviolent direct action by organizing the Indian community there to oppose race-based laws and socioeconomic repression.

Gandhi returned to India in 1914. In 1919, British authorities issued the Rowlatt Acts, policies that permitted the incarceration without trial of Indians suspected of sedition. In response, Gandhi called for a day of national fasting, meetings, and suspension of work on 6 April 1919, as an act of satyagraha (literally, truth-force or love-force), a form of nonviolent resistance. He suspended the campaign of nonviolent resistance a few days later because protestors had responded violently to the police.

Within the next few years, Gandhi reshaped the existing Indian National Congress into a mass movement promoting Indian self-rule through a boycott of British goods and institutions…’ (Continue reading)

I’ve included a list of links of many excellent online sources on Gandhi below, including journalist and social critic Christopher Hitchen’s critique. Gandhi did, at times, express ideas and make decisions that many regard as problematic to this day, such as his early rhetoric on black Africans and his relations with some of the women in his life, including his wife Kasturba. Gandhi was no plaster saint: like the rest of us, he struggled to find truth and meaning in a world of mutually contradictory yet worthy-seeming values, principles, and goals; sometimes, like the rest of us, he didn’t get it right, and sometimes, he was very, very wrong. True understanding, I believe, is never reached through uncritical hero worship, even of one as influential, internationally revered, and I believe ultimately beneficial to the intellectual, activist, and political history of human rights as Gandhi.

Appreciating Gandhi Through His Human Side ~ by Hari Kunzru for the New York Times‘ Books of the Times, Mar 29, 2011

Civil Disobedience ~ by Kimberley Brownlee for The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience ~ from the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

In Search of Gandhi ~ by Lalit Vachani, from BBC’s Radio Four Storyville Why Democracy? series

Life of Gandhi ~ a documentary by GandhiServe Foundation: Mahatma Gandhi Research and Media Service.

Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand (1869-1948) and India Trip (1959)two entries from Martin Luther King, Jr. and The Global Freedom Struggle: Encyclopedia of the MLK Research and Education Institute at Stanford University

Mohandas Gandhi ~ by Salman Rushdie for Time magazine, Apr 13, 1998

The Real Mahatma Gandhi: Questioning the Moral Heroism of India’s Most Revered Figure ~ by Christopher Hitchens for The Atlantic, July/August 2011 issue.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Civil Rights and Healthcare: Remembering Simkins v. Cone (1963), by Ezelle Sanford III

Dr. George Simkins, Jr.

Dr. George Simkins, Jr.

Upon her release from L. Richardson Memorial Hospital’s maternity ward in Greensboro, North Carolina, my grandmother, Ann Wilson Scales, walked a few short steps to her mother’s home with a small baby in hand. She had just given birth to my mother, La Tanya Wilson Sanford, in the city’s Black hospital. It was 1965. Unbeknownst to either of them, a small group of L. Richardson’s physicians, dentists, and patients had waged a quiet war against segregation two years earlier. The city was the site of arguably one of the more consequential yet little-known civil rights battles in American history. No, it was not the beginning of the student sit-in movement initiated by North Carolina A&T students in 1960. Rather, this small contingent fought in district and circuit courts to desegregate U.S. healthcare. At issue was where medical professionals could practice and where patients could access care: in the older, segregated L. Richardson Hospital, or in the newer, more modern (and better funded) Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital.

In 1962, dentist George Simkins, Jr. unsuccessfully attempted to admit a patient to Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, one of two private white hospitals in the city supported by tax dollars. Combining his role as community dentist and President of the Greensboro chapter of the NAACP, Simkins initiated a class-action lawsuit against both Moses Cone and Wesley Long Community Hospitals. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund assisted in litigating the test case. Not only were African American patients barred from these institutions, Black physicians were barred from practicing there, even as both institutions received state and federal funds provided by the 1946 Hill-Burton Hospital Survey and Construction Act. Hill-Burton emerged from President Harry Truman’s failed healthcare reform and promised to rebuild and modernize the U.S. healthcare infrastructure. However, this program included a loophole where states that engaged in de jure racial segregation could use the money to build segregated facilities. Cone and Long Hospitals both benefitted from this program and its segregation loophole. This is not to say that segregated hospitals did not exist before the Hill-Burton Program, however; historian Vanessa Gamble chronicles the movement to establish Black hospitals from 1920–1945.

Initially, the district court of North Carolina sided with the defendant hospitals; however, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (and later the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case) deemed that the two hospitals’ policies of racial discrimination for both patient admissions and visiting physician staff privileges violated the fifth and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution.

Last September, the CEO of Cone Health Network, of which Moses Cone Memorial Hospital and Wesley Long Hospitals are now a part, issued a public apology to the last surviving plaintiff of the historic court ruling. Dr. Alvin Blount, 94, graciously accepted the long overdue apology from the health system, initiating local reflections on racial discrimination in healthcare. This is not the first apology issued to acknowledge the long-strained history of race and racism associated with medicine and healthcare. In May 1997, former President Bill Clinton formally apologized for the United States Public Health Service’s “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” (1932–1972). In 2008, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially apologized for its exclusion of Black physicians from membership, an important acknowledgment given that AMA membership became increasingly important for hospital admitting privileges, licensure, and broader steps in professional development. As historian Thomas Ward notes, until the AMA desegregated in 1968, Black physicians were barred from white hospitals and denied opportunities for continuing medical education, thereby justifying their own professional societies and medical schools. All of these apologies were too little, too late, and their legacies continue to influence healthcare to date.

Historical marker for landmark decision of Simkin v. Cone, 1963

Historical marker for landmark decision of Simkin v. Cone, 1963

Cone Health commemorated the legacy of the Simkins decision by allocating $250,000 in scholarship funds for students pursuing healthcare professions. Guilford County commemorated the case by placing a marker outside Cone Hospital and a bronze statue of George Simkins on the grounds of the Guilford County Courthouse. These symbolic gestures speak to the case’s broad importance, defining Simkins not only as a significant battle for civil rights in medicine, but also as a touchstone moment in a much larger movement for freedom and liberation. Simkins was decided only months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was ratified; the Title VI of this act and Medicare funding forced the desegregation of healthcare facilities almost overnight, as historian David Barton Smith argues. In a short documentary produced by Cone Health, Dr. Blount recalled that the Simkins case “ended ‘separate but equal’ forever.”

Yet, the Simkins decision does not figure prominently in many popular renditions of civil rights history.1 Contrary to the aforementioned Clinton and AMA apologies, which received national attention, the Simkins apology did not move beyond the local media. In many of these local reflections, the Simkins case was likened to the historic 1954 Brown v. Board ruling. Though both cases ostensibly achieved similar ends, eliminating separate but equal institutions in education and healthcare, respectively, the comparison obscures more than it reveals. Even I am guilty of this shorthand, an easy way to communicate the gravity and significance of this decision. But this shorthand has the unintended effect of perpetuating Simkins’ invisibility.

History plays a role in why Brown lives on in the popular imaginary and Simkins does not. A majority of Americans interacted with both systems as they each cared for the nation’s most vulnerable: children and the infirm. Desegregating American education, however, was a very public battle, as images and video captured the Little Rock Nine or Dorothy Counts (who integrated my high school, Harding University High School in Charlotte, North Carolina) confronting inflamed white mobs. Brown was not simply waged in court; debates around school segregation seeped into American homes and into popular discourse. On the other hand, Dr. Blount remembered that the Simkins plaintiffs wanted to engage in a quiet challenge to segregated healthcare.2Although their fiscal independence allowed some physicians, like T. R. M. Howard, to jump to the fore of a broader movement, others sought to challenge their exclusion from the medical establishment in a more dignified manner.

While the Supreme Court heard Brown, it did not take the Simkins case. Until the Civil Rights Act months later, the lower Circuit Court’s ruling stood as jurisprudence only in the Fourth Circuit’s Mid-Atlantic region. Moreover, the two cases had distinct legal questions at their heart; Brown questioned the separate but equal doctrine established in 1896, while Simkins questioned whether public funding of private institutions counted as “state action.” Undoubtedly, Brown was an essential step leading to the Simkins decision. Without its challenge to the separate but equal doctrine, Simkins may have failed. Finally, the speed by which institutions in the fields of education and healthcare were desegregated differed dramatically. In the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, school desegregation was ordered with “all deliberate speed,” while the Simkins case, combined with the Civil Rights Act and Medicare legislation, helped to desegregate many hospitals rather quickly. Political scientist and historian David Smith’s The Power to Heal: Civil Rights Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America’s Healthcare System (2016) recovers this connection and situates health policy implementation in the broader movement for equality, employment, and rights.

Though the Simkins case is lauded for bringing about a swift end to segregation in healthcare, among other things, it led to the decline of Black community hospitals. While some, like Grady Memorial in Atlanta, successfully negotiated the new terrain of race relations, federal monies, power, and increased opportunities for Black medical students and doctors elsewhere, others like Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis and L. Richardson Hospital shuddered under the burden of increasing medical costs, lack of staff, and changing ideas around the importance of these institutions. In effect, Black hospitals were an anachronism in the post-Simkins era. Where some Black patients could, like my grandmother, walk to and from their community hospitals, such an action is almost inconceivable today given the large, distant campuses of many contemporary urban hospitals and medical centers.

Cone Health’s apology, though overdue, came at just the right moment. Dr. Alvin Blount passed away earlier this year, only months after his former legal foe recognized and applauded his pioneering work. The silences around the Simkins decision demonstrate that more work still needs to be done on our understanding of the history and legacy of Black liberation. Specifically, the nexus between civil rights and health remains fertile ground for scholarly inquiry. We must heed the warning of W. Montague Cobb, physician, anthropologist, editor, activist, and intellectual, “lest we forget.”

This piece was originally published at The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) blog

Ezelle Sanford III is a fourth-year graduate student at Princeton University in the Department of History, Program in the History of Science. He is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Center for Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis working on his dissertation project, “A Source of Pride, a Vision of Progress: The Homer G. Phillips Hospital of St. Louis, MO.” (Bio credit: AAIHS)

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Philosopher’s Way at John McLaren Park, San Francisco

Philosopher's Walk entry path, John McLaren Park, San Francisco

Philosopher’s Way entry trail, John McLaren Park, San Francisco. The plaque contains the trail map and text seen below

Earlier this summer, I walked the Philosopher’s Way in San Francisco. Between wrapping up the main portion of my Frederick Douglass history of ideas travel series (I have more essays in the works about his life and ideas which I’ll finish and publish over time), preparing to resume my formal education, a health issue, and a family trip, I’ve had less time to write other pieces, so I had to put this aside too. But finally, here it is.

The Philosopher’s Way is inspired by a tradition of such philosopher’s walks that are meant to inspire contemplation and an appreciation of the natural world and our place in it. I was reminded of the Hume Walk on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. In 1775, the great Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume helped get a park built here so that the people of Edinburgh had a beautiful and accessible place to get exercise and admire nature.

Philosopher's Way

Philosopher’s Way downloadable trail map and article, by artists Peter Richards and Susan Schwartzenburg. Courtesy of the San Francisco Arts Commission / Public Utilities Commission

An arrow marker stone marks each fork and turnoff on Philosopher's Way

An arrow marker stone marks each fork and turnoff on Philosopher’s Way

Though the parking lot is full of trash, including the largest pile of discarded whip-it canisters I’ve ever seen, the park is not. It has a wild look, only minimally pruned and landscaped. On the whole, I like it. The grassy hill leads to shady groves, that gold-and-green California look I love. Many of the overlooks of the city and the bay contain too many industrial-looking structures to be considered very beautiful in my view, but the park itself is nice. It’s only June, and already very dry. The drought’s still going strong.

mclaren-park-in-green-and-gold-san-francisco-ca-2014-amy-cools

John McLaren Park in green and gold.

San Bruno Mountain marker

San Bruno Mountain marker

Each overlook and designated view has an etched stone plaque with information about the landscape and history, and a poetic, inspirational, or thought-provoking quote.

I wander, through shade and sun, sometimes seeing only the path and trees ahead and sometimes more open views, sometimes of the surrounding hills and sometimes of the flats and water below.

San Bruno overlook from Philosopher's Way

San Bruno overlook from Philosopher’s Way

Turn in the shady path. Note the helpfully arrowed stone marker.

Turn in the shady path. Note the helpfully arrowed stone marker.

A particularly pretty view from Philosopher's Way. Note one of the arrowed stone markers

A particularly pretty view from Philosopher’s Way.

Eucalyptus, flowers, and greenery on a hillside

Eucalyptus, flowers, and greenery on a hillside

martin-luther-king-marker-at-cow-palace-overlook-philosophers-way-sf-2016-amy-coolsThere’s an overlook with a clear view of the large, sideways half-cylindrical shape of the Cow Palace, a large forum where, it turns out, Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke. An interesting tidbit of local history!

As I’ve explored much of the walk already, I sit here for a little while, then choose another spot more shielded from the sun glaring off the pages of my book. I read, and rest, and exchange messages with a faraway friend, and think a little, but mostly daydream.

After a couple of hours, I explore the rest of the trails. It’s a lovely, quiet way to spend an afternoon.

cow-palace-overlook-with-martin-luther-king-marker-philosophers-way-sf-2016-amy-cools

Cow Palace overlook with Martin Luther King, Jr. photographic marker

A hillside view from Philosopher's Walk

A hillside view from Philosopher’s Walk

A marker which tells about the native San Francisco grasses here in McLaren Park

A marker which tells about the native San Francisco grasses here in McLaren Park

another-view-of-philosophers-way-trail-mclaren-park-sf-2016-amy-cools~ Thanks, Michelle, for telling me about this place!

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and Inspiration:

Philosopher’s Way: McLaren’s Contemplative Jewel‘. From SaveMcLarenPark.org

Richards, Peter and Susan Schwartzenburg. ‘Philosopher’s Way‘ trail map and article, San Francisco Arts Commission / Public Utilities Commission

Todd, Gail. ‘Philosopher’s Way in McLaren Park‘. June 5, 2013, SFChronicle.com