New Podcast Episode: Margaret Sanger NYC Sites, Day 3, Part 1

Margaret Sanger with Fania Mindell inside Brownsville clinic, forerunner of Palanned Parenthood, Oct. 1916, public domain via Library of Congress

Margaret Sanger with Fania Mindell inside Brownsville clinic, forerunner of Palanned Parenthood, Oct. 1916, public domain via Library of Congress

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

I get out in decent time to start the day’s explorations, just after eight, but it’s not long before I realize I’m tired and hence, a little cranky. My friends and I watched the third Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debate last night and some of the commentary which followed, then finally went to sleep very late after we talked about what we just watched, and other things. I’m mostly on New York time now, but not quite.

The abortion issue came up almost immediately in the debate since the first question from the moderator was about the Supreme Court and the appointment of justices. Trump pledged to nominate only strongly anti-abortion candidates. Clinton was adamant that Roe v. Wade and laws protecting women’s access to birth control and abortion (with appropriate limitations) be upheld. Clinton also strongly endorsed Planned Parenthood, praising the services it provides and criticizing all efforts to defund it. I, for one, am grateful to Planned Parenthood, the organization that Margaret Sanger founded…. Read the written version here

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Where Has All The Loving Gone? A Review Of The New Film, ‘Loving’ by Peter Cole

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, June 12, 1967, by Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, June 12, 1967, by Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A new film about the Southern working class couple whose love and dedication broke the back of anti-miscegenation laws across the nation arrives just in time. Released days prior to Donald Trump’s election, viewers of Loving might be shocked to discover that anti-racist, blue-collared, white men—like Richard Loving—walked Southern soil. He was brave (or ignorant) enough to think he could get away with marrying a black woman; wise enough to know she was smarter than him. His deferral to her effort to seek legal counsel ultimately overturned laws banning interracial marriage in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Beneath the film, the Lovings’ story also speaks to the centuries-long effort by white supremacists to create a “white race” and defend it from “race-mixing”(also called miscegenation). In 1958, Richard Loving, 23, and Mildred Jeter, 17, married in the District of Columbia. They did so because Virginia outlawed interracial marriages, one of twenty-four states with similar laws at the time. Richard was “white,” Mildred “black” though actually a mixture of African American and Rappahannock Indian.

So began their nine-year odyssey that ended with the Court unanimously ruling that states could not prevent a man and a woman from marrying, regardless of their racial identities. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, critics at Cannes hailed the motion picture and Oscar buzz has begun. The film deserves high praise and wide viewership, anchored by incredible performances from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, the two principal actors.

Despite knowing the law—as proven by their DC marriage—the newlyweds chose to live in Central Point, their rural home in eastern Virginia’s Caroline County. A remote community made up of poor and working class people with a long, complicated history of ethnic and racial mixing, African Americans, European Americans, and Native Americans all lived in Central Point. Tellingly, despite 97% of all births, in 1960, occurring in hospitals, Richard’s mother, a midwife, delivered Mildred’s first child in 1959.

Just weeks after marrying, and prior to Mildred’s delivery, the sheriff arrested and jailed them for “unlawful cohabitation.” According to Mildred, when “they asked Richard who was that woman he was sleeping with,” she responded: “‘I’m his wife,’ and the sheriff said, ‘Not here you’re not.’”

The Lovings had violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 though laws prohibiting interracial marriage and sex date back to the colonial era. The first “Richard Loving,” as it were, appeared in Virginia court records in 1630: “Hugh Davis [a white man] to be soundly whipped before an assembly of Negroes and others for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians by defiling his body in lying with a Negro; which fault he is to acknowledge next Sabbath day.”

By 1662, though, reality forced Virginia’s House of Burgesses to designate the status of interracial offspring:

WHEREAS some doubts have arisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a Negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shall; be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.

Virginia’s law dictated, “that which is brought forth follows the womb” or, in Latin, “partus sequitur ventrem.” In other words, a white, male slave-owner could have sex with—quite possibly raping—a black female slave, but their child was considered a slave, like the mother, rather than free, like the father. Previously, Virginia followed English common law, which dictated a father’s status determined a child’s. Virginia first outlawed miscegenation in 1691, as part of “An act for suppressing outlying Slaves.”

Over time, racial barriers further hardened in Virginia, the South, and nation. Before the twentieth century, Virginia considered a person “black” with one-forth African ancestry. In 1910, the state adopted one-sixteenth as its definition. With the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, Virginia embraced the notorious “one-drop” rule, authored in a period of heightened xenophobia and racism. For violating this law, in 1959 Judge Leon M. Bazile of the Caroline County Circuit Court sentenced Richard to prison for a year, but suspended this sentence if the couple agreed to leave Virginia and not return for twenty-five years.

In 1963, following encouragement from a relative inspired by the recent March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Mildred wrote Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He forwarded her letter to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which took the case. Attorneys Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, both young Jewish men committed to racial equality, quickly recognized this Loving story could, once and for all, overturn all interracial marriage bans.

In response to their appeal, Judge Bazile wrote: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

In this tumultuous era, the height of the civil rights movement, white Virginians led efforts to prevent integration. In 1956 Virginians Senator Harry F. Byrd and Representative Howard Smith introduced the Southern Manifesto, encouraging Southern whites to engage in “massive resistance” to integration.

In 1963, the same year Cohen and Hirschkop appealed the Lovings’ punishment, another Virginia court ruled against interracial marriage: “’to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,’ and to prevent ‘the corruption of blood,’ ‘a mongrel breed of citizens,’ and ‘the obliteration of racial pride’.”

Four years later, Chief Justice Earl Warren profoundly disagreed: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.” “Odious to a free people,” banning interracial marriage violated the 14th Amendment. Case closed.

Sadly, the Lovings only spent eight more years together after becoming the Supreme Court’s most aptly named case. A drunk driver killed Richard, just 41, in 1975. Mildred died of pneumonia, in 2008, at 68. She never remarried, living the rest of her days in the house her husband, a bricklayer, built for her after changing History.

Given the recent presidential election, it seems impossible to watch Loving and not meditate about the so-called white working class. Two-thirds of whites without a college education—a very imperfect correlation to socio-economic class—voted for Trump. Yet, for most of the twentieth century, such people, particularly Southern whites, voted Democratic. At least in part due to the civil rights revolution, Southern whites overwhelmingly realigned and, largely, took over the Republican Party. In 2016, 72% of registered Republicans still question the Americanness of America’s most famous mixed race citizen, Barack Obama.

Richard Loving rejected white supremacy when he married Mildred—in contrast to legions of white men who “simply” had sex with black women. He, his wife, and their three mixed race children became victims of racism. He became a “race traitor.” White film viewers come to see that, after marrying, Richard essentially joined the black community. They lived with her family, first in Virginia and, later, a racially segregated part of Washington, DC. Except for his mother in Central Point, Richard appeared to have no white friends; he and his best friend, a black man, owned and drag-raced cars. He kept to himself at work—(apparently) all-white construction sites.

A long history of accepting interracial couples and mixed race children exists in the black community, if only because no alternatives seem to exist. James Baldwin laid bare this ugly truth during a televised debate with a white conservative. When asked about what whites feared most, “Would you want your [white] daughter to marry one [black]?” Baldwin retorted, “You’re not worried about me marrying your daughter—you’re worried about me marrying your wife’s daughter. I’ve been marrying your daughter since the days of slavery.”

In a telling scene in the film, Richard drinks with three black friends in a black saloon. One friend pointedly asks Richard how it feels to experience what blacks had suffered from for 350 years: virulent racism. Richard, always taciturn, says nothing but proceeds to get drunk and, later, cry in Mildred’s arms.

Today, the number of interracial couples and families, like the Lovings, remains small. The 2010 U.S. Census reported nine million Americans identified as multiracial. The Pew Research Center noted in 2013, however, “a record-high 12% of newlyweds married someone of a different race.” Yet, apparently many white Americans still fear people like the Lovings and the ongoing demographic changes transforming America into a “majority-minority” nation.

Hence, we need reminding that America was not so great for many Americans, including African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans along with their white allies who opposed white supremacy. We also need reminding that Mildred and Richard Loving personally overcame. Their story and this film demand a wide audience.

~ This review was originally published on Nov 27th, 2016 in the blog of the African creative-commons-attribution-noncommercial-4-0-international-licenseAmerican Intellectual History Society, and the text and links are here reproduced in full 

Peter Cole is a historian of the twentieth-century United States, South Africa and comparative history. Dr. Cole is Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia (University of Illinois Press, 2013) and currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race, Technology & Unions in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @ProfPeterCole.

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!

The Morning After Election Day 2016

3f86f-ballot2bbox2bclosed2bprotestI watched the election results roll in last night on the same sofa and in company with the same good friends as eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. As the night wore on, our dearest hopes that we would see the first woman elected president of the United States were dashed, to the deep disappointment of everyone in the room. Trump was elected president. It was clear to me that though all believe that women should have equal chances of being elected president, the gender of the candidate was not foremost in their minds last night. It was the misogyny, racism, crass materialism, and bullying personality of Trump and his followers that must be defeated, showing the world that our values are much better than our new Twitter-troll-in-chief might have you believe.

My friends are nearly all liberal, my family mostly conservative. Some of my loved ones are rejoicing, some are mourning, and probably, given the new president’s coarse speech and demeanor, checkered past, and nonconservative positions on many issues, more were at least as glum as they were glad.

For some of my religious family members, I believe they did not vote for Trump because they like him, admire him, or agree with him on many issues. They voted for Trump while holding their noses at his attitudes toward women and minorities, his coziness with Putin, his anti-free-trade positions, his hiding of his tax returns. For them, abortion is by far the most important issue at stake, so the candidate that will nominate anti-abortion Supreme Court justices and oppose Roe v. Wade is their only viable choice. I understand their position: if you truly believe abortion is legalized murder, then the candidate that will likely to most to change the law in this regard must be their candidate. But that doesn’t mean they like having to vote for him.

Other people I know and love do sincerely admire Trump, dismissing some of his worst behavior as mere indiscretions, excesses of the vitality and exuberance that made him the go-getter they see him as: the man of the people who made himself rich in the can-do, hard-working, all-American way. For myself, I have a hard time seeing how exactly how the actual Trump fits in with this perception: his primary business is building luxury amenities for the wealthy, funding it at the beginning with piles of money he didn’t earn; he’s repeatedly exploited bankruptcy laws to the fullest which allowed him to escape personal responsibility for his bad investments while stiffing his contractors, the hard-working Americans that he’s supposed to represent; the things he does have made are often built from cheap Chinese steel and with low-paid Chinese, not American, hands; he starred in a reality TV show where he showcased his ‘business acumen’ by glowering behind a big shiny desk in a too-big suit, repeating generic self-help platitudes that convey no real guidance or information at all. In other words, he is just business-as-usual. But like so many Americans, they fell for his brand, the heavily marketed, glossy persona that the media lap up because he’s just so entertaining.

For me, what the Presidential candidates represent often does take priority over what they do, since they do not run the country on their own. Many of the qualities and principles that Trump represents to people are, I think, even uglier than what he’s said and done, which is often bad enough. But it seems that what he doesn’t represent is what got him into office: he doesn’t represent the establishment and he doesn’t represent the multicultural cosmopolitanism of the new information-centric world. And he doesn’t represent what’s been called the feminization of our culture, as machismo, militarism, and hyper-individualism slowly erodes from our national character. Hilary Clinton largely represented this feminization, the idea that the state also exists as a facilitator of care, for promoting health and education, of taking in those that flee to us for help, nurturing the young and the disenfranchised so that all have an equal shot or, if you happen to be a casualty of the capitalism most of us benefit from, you’re not out on your ear. And she represented it in a way that the strong mom does: idealistic yet practical, ruthless if need be in defense of her brood. Clinton has flaws, perhaps as many as Trump, but they are flaws of excess in the pursuit of greater and worthier things than self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence. But women, traditionally, are not allowed to have flaws, not if we are to be admired and promoted to any position of influence. For men, that’s just, well, part of being a man, part and parcel to being strong, bold, and getting things done.

I wish we could have shown the world last night that we believe in women too, that our girls do have the same chance of becoming president as anyone else, and they could do so by being women, unapologetically, able to succeed to our fullest potential whether or not we have flaws too.

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!

New Podcast Episode: Affirmative Action and Balance

Justice et inégalité - les plateaux de la balance by Frachet, Jan 2010, Public Domain via Wikimedia CommonsListen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

The recent Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., was a cautious but significant one in favor of affirmative action. As Adam Liptak writes in his New York Times article ‘Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Program at University of Texas‘, while ‘not all affirmative action programs will pass constitutional muster… the ruling’s basic message was that admissions officials may continue to consider race as one factor among many in ensuring a diverse student body.’

This opposes the central tenet of affirmative action opposition: admission to universities can only be based on merit, which in turn is determined mainly by grades buttressed by the quality of relative achievements; therefore, only color-blind admissions criteria are just and fair.

But as we all well know, educational institutions have been generally the purview of the wealthy, the connected, and the white for most of our history…. Read the original article:

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!

O.P. Recommends: Landmark Cases / Injustices, Two Great Works on the Supreme Court

This last couple of weeks or so, I’ve been packing in a lot more learning about the Supreme Court, and is it ever fascinating.

It began when I stumbled on Landmark Cases last month, a C-Span series about 12 Supreme Court cases chosen because they had a dramatic impact on the legal landscape in United States history, and because they likewise had a significant impact on the Court itself, as precedent and on its perceived legitimacy, for good or ill. It can be found as a video series online, but I’ve been listening to the podcast version.

As I was listening, the discussions reminded me of a book I had heard about a little while ago but had forgotten to read, a book about the Supreme Court’s worst failures, terrible decisions that undermined its legitimacy and had a negative impact on the lives of people for years to come. It’s called Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted, by Ian Millhiser. So, I went and picked it up, and just as with the Landmark Cases Series, I’ve been finding it difficult to tear myself away.

Both the Landmark Cases series and Injustices reveal that though sometimes the Supreme Court has been the bulwark against congressional, state, and individual encroachments of freedom, it has also too often betrayed the public trust. While we remember and celebrate such cases as Brown vs. Board of EducationGriswold v. Connecticut, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which brought the blessings of liberty to more of the American people than ever before, we sometimes forget how extensive the history of freedom-crushing Supreme Court decisions really is. The Dred Scott case, Lochner vs. New York, Korematsu vs. United States, and Citizens United v. FEC, for example, allowed employers to exploit desperate workers by cornering the market, fixing wages, and creating terrible working conditions with health-destroying long hours; permitted the government to imprison innocent citizens and allow the looting of their property based on no other consideration than race; and enabled the wealthy few to effectively buy up elections. Millhiser’s view of the Supreme Court’s historical tendency to value states and property rights over civil rights and the public interest is summarized here: ‘If American government truly derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, then [the] agenda [of the hardline conservatives] that is so often and so soundly rejected at the polls must not be implemented by one unelected branch of government when there is no constitutional basis to do so.’ (pp 184-85).

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices, joined at times by their otherwise more liberal-minded colleagues, all too often decided their cases according to the view that the Constitution only prescribes and limits federal action, and was not intended to do likewise with state or individual action. But as many other Supreme Court justices observed, especially in its civil rights phase throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, this reading of the Constitution renders it impotent (FDR’s terminology in his second inaugural address) to extend the protections of the Bill of Rights to citizens in almost all arenas of life.

After all, most of one’s life is not spent interacting directly with the federal government or its institutions, but in homes, shops, public squares, workplaces, and so on. If the state, or an employer, or a county sheriff, or a bus driver, or a neighbor, or any other non-federal institution or person uses their liberty to oppress another individual, then the latter can’t actually enjoy the freedoms that the Bill of Rights guarantees*. And surely the founders of our nation didn’t intend the Bill of Rights, demanded as a condition of the Constitution’s passage, to be powerless to protect individual freedoms in most circumstances. This is the principle which drives the more liberal Supreme Court Justices, Millhiser, and commentators on the Landmark Cases series to agree that strict constructionist, hyper-conservative, elitist, and commerce-centric justices have historically imposed opinions on the public that do not serve their interests as idealized in the Bill of Rights, and allowed the the powerful and wealthy few to claim the right to do as they like while trampling the liberties of everyone else. Since the Constitution derives its legitimacy from ‘we the people’, then we the people, in our institutions and as individuals, should be likewise bound by the Bill of Rights.

At times, I think that Milhiser champions too strongly the general principle that unelected judges should get out of the way and allow elected representatives to legislate as their constituents demand. After all, as so many of Milhiser’s examples indicate, legislators historically have been all too happy, too often, to make laws that favor some while trampling the rights of others. The potential value of an unelected judiciary to balance the power of an elected legislature is, I think, revealed more clearly in the Landmark Cases discussions. After all, the will of the majority often runs contrary to the national project laid out in the Preamble of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, to protect and promote the rights of everyone, especially those in the minority who need protection the most. However, as author Jeffrey Toobin points out in his endorsement of the book, Millhiser’s book does an excellent job of balancing the good history of good Supreme Court jurisprudence with the bad.

Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes

*For more on the distinction between liberty and freedom, please see my essay Freedom, Liberty, and the Inevitable Interconnectedness of Human Life

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:

Landmark Cases: A C-Span Original TV Series, 2015

Millhider, Ian. Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. New York: Nation Books, 2015.

“One Third of a Nation”: FDR’s Second Inaugural Address, published at History Matters website.

On Today’s Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down State Bans on Gay Marriage

Congratulations to all of my fellow Americans in love who, until today, have been denied the equal protection that’s their Constitutional and moral right. This so happens to be the week I celebrate eight years of happy marriage with the love of my own heart, and I’m so glad that that our society is affirming the love and commitment of so many more people. Here’s to all you lovers out there!