The Charlotte News

Thursday, February 16, 1939


Site Ed. Note: The moral we draw from "A Gloomy Prospect", when combined with the cotton piece, is that it is better to go possum hunting with busthead than to return cotton under Bankhead, for in returning cotton under Bankhead, many more sharecroppers would have been reduced to busting heads o' possum probably.

Of course, the plan of Bankhead was preferable to the one promoted by William Rhodes Davis, to barter part of the government's stored excess cotton, consigned as security for farm loans, for Mexico's expropriated oil traded to the Third Reich. While this plan, proposed twice, in 1936 and again in August, 1939, was never officially approved by the government, was it perhaps informally accomplished by surreptitious means? By providing small amounts at a time of high-grade staple cotton to entities subsidized by local governments around the country, such as Charlotte's blind industries; then when it was found to be too dense to run through the machinery known to be suitable only for a coarser grade, a convenient private buyer was seen to step up to buy it back at market price, a private buyer who would then resell it to the Davis-Bank of Boston-Mexico-Germany barter scheme, thus covering the tracks of the cotton back to the government? Thusly, the cotton would never have been on government books as being sold to a belligerent either for direct use or as a trade commodity, only a donation to a local government non-profit enterprise. Maybe; maybe not. If so, the other question becomes whether such a trade deal might have been constructed knowingly by Federal underlings or, more probably, by locals, unwitting or not of such an ultimate nefarious purpose, out to make a buck for ailing government projects for the needy.

Speaking of which, it was on this date in February, 1939 that a deal was announced, also at the behest of Davis, between the Cardenas government in Mexico and a German airplane manufacturer to supply military aircraft to Mexico in furtherance of the Davis barter scheme for oil. This deal came on the heels of a mid-December arrangement whereby fully $25 million dollars worth of oil would be supplied to the Reich from Mexico, $17 million in bartered goods and $8 million in cash, all to supply the anticipated one-year advance supply needed to wage war--needed to invade Poland and fend off the anticipated backlash from France and Great Britain from that invasion. The airplane deal providing direct military assistance from Germany to Mexico, all in derogation of U.S. and British economic interests in the expropriated oil, proved too much for the Administration to tolerate, though it had up to that point permitted the trade with Germany to prevent Mexico from drowning in its crude. With the active intervention with Cardenas by Ambassador Daniels, a week later the airplane trade deal was nixed. Oil, however, continued nevertheless to flow freely in exchange for machinery and railroad equipment and other such civilian commodities through the time of the invasion of Poland and the consequent implementation of the British blockade on Germany in September.

And since we included a few days back H. E. C. Bryant's anachronistic piece on supposed "old-time" African-American speech patterns, we shall include the below piece by him also, regarding his other Ephesians and their various sanative prescriptions for longevity; perhaps to demonstrate by his apparent age why the earlier piece held the distinct fetid pungency about it of at least the paternalistic side of racial discrimination, if not altogether dyed in the wool sheep-dip. Hard to escape the inexorable press of socialization of one sort or another of the time and place where one is raised and acculturated, whether by impact on such ephemera as speech or as force majeur in shaping behavior. Mr. Bryant does not appear to have been the exception to prove the rule.

Wistful Notes By A Man Without Bad Habits

By H. E. C. Bryant in Chapel Hill Weekly

My mother was a short, light sleeper and I inherited that trait. Six hours is all that I want or need. Therefore, when I attacked my studies at college it was not hard for me to study until one o'clock in the morning and get up at seven. Dr. Hume thought that I played poker, for some days I looked sleepy.

Another weakness or blessing I got from my mother was my inability to drink coffee, a cup of which, every morning for a week, would convert me into an airplane.

This leads me to a story of a remarkable man. When I went to Lexington to report on the Shemwell murder trial in 1895--my first newspaper assignment--I met William E. Christian, then on The Raleigh News and Observer. He had reached middle age and seemed like an old man to me. He was nervous, active, robust and courageous. He took me, a greenhorn and a rival news gatherer, under his wing, and steered me into a proper course. Our acquaintance resulted in a friendship that lasted until his death.

To me Mr. Christian was a rebel. He drank 27 cups of coffee the first day I met him. I said to myself, "There goes a good fellow to his grave by the coffee route." He lived to be eighty-odd and died in Washington. Up to the time of his last illness he was as gay and debonair as any youngster.

Another North Carolina acquaintance who puzzled me was "Uncle Fed" Messer who lived to be more than 110 at his home in the mountains of Haywood County. I rode 44 miles on horseback for an interview with him, and he told me he had chewed tobacco from the time he was ten and had taken "a little snip of hard liquor every morning before breakfast for ninety-odd years."

Being unable to carry more than an occasional drink of whisky, or to use tobacco at all, I have wondered about "Uncle Fed." I've been happy without those necessities for Mr. Christian and Mr. Messer but sometimes I wish I could have conquered coffee, liquor, and tobacco.

Colonel Swift Galloway of Greene County used to indulge in a dissertation on the beautiful green frog that climbs out of a pool, mounts a tussock and looks out on the world. He said that, in a conversation with the little amphibian, he learned that it was not happy.

"The frog complained," he said, "that while bees went buzzing over his head, and birds floated from tree to tree, and deer went pounding over the land, he, a miserable piker, went through life a-bumping his anatomy upon the ground."

Sometime I wonder if I am a piker. Scruples have not deterred me.

A Gloomy Prospect

The matter-of-fact Associated Press reports the ruin of another ancient Southern tradition. Up in Centralia, Va. the relatives of Scovell Martin, age 12, and Mary Martin, age 9, both of Essex Falls, N. J. (that's what we said, New Jersey) left them alone and went visiting. Shortly, the youngsters spied a possum in a tree in the yard. And thereupon the little Yankee boy climbed up the tree, cracked Brother Possum over the head with a stick and knocked him to the ground, where little Yankee sister cotch him, just like that.

That, as the AP sapiently remarks, violates all the known rules. For hundreds of years, it has been held by all good Southerners that the only way to catch a possum was to wait for a good moon, to take along some coon dogs to smell out the canny marsupial and, with their mourning, lead the hunters to his tree; to spot his lordship dark against the moon among the branches, and then either to hack the tree down or send a colored gentleman up after him. But the AP, while setting down all the salient facts about the ritual, overlooks something, and that the most important thing: that all good Southern hunters knew that to hunt possums with success it was also necessary to take along a fat jug of busthead and frequently to pour libations to King Gullet. The more libations, the more possums--that was a rule which not even women and parsons questioned.

But now--had those little Yankee radicals perhaps been prowling in the pantry before they went a-hunting and a-revoluting? We should hope so. Else we fetch up ineluctably and inescapably before the fact that the Southerner stands one far step closer to the time when to drink busthead at all he is going to be driven to coming shamelessly out into the open and admitting that he likes to drink busthead--just for itself.

Question of Propriety

"Chip" Robert of Atlanta caught on to the New Deal early and handily. He made a hit with Mr. Roosevelt, and after that first March 4 was made an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of public building despite the fact that Robert & Co. was an engineering firm with an active interest in construction. When Morgenthau replaced the late Secretary Woodin, Chip remained Assistant Secretary but with only the minor assignment of supervising the Mint and the Government Printing Office. In January, 1936, he resigned.

Jim Farley took him over, however, and he was made secretary of the Democratic National Executive Committee with headquarters in Washington.

Now a committee of the Georgia Legislature--yclept the Economy Investigating Committee--has challenged Robert & Co.'s 6 per cent fee on a contract with the State's Board of Public Welfare. The contract: $5,000,000. Six per cent of $5,000,000: $300,000. Chip has hotly resented any intimation: that the fee was for "promotion," as one committee member had charged, or for anything except strictly architectural and engineering services at standard rates. And far be it from us to question his statement.

But the propriety of the whole situation may be questioned. Look, now. The RFC, an Administration agency, is lending Georgia $2,200,000 so that it can get an outright gift of $1,800,000 from PWA, another Administration agency, to put up $5,000,000 worth of buildings for the state. And the engineering firm that gets the supervisory job is headed up by the secretary of the Democratic National Executive Committee, itself the creature of the Postmaster General and the President of the United States.

We think it may be said without displeasing anybody that, in general, officers of a party committee should not be allowed to take contracts for work largely paid for by the Government with which that party is hand in glove.

'Ware the Bankhead Bill

The cotton problem, alas, is like the poor in more respects than one. It seems with us always, and on top of that it is a thoroughly depressing subject. But cotton, nevertheless, and what on earth to do about cotton, are topics which the Southern States simply cannot afford to shun. Their chief means of support is still cotton, and in the last few years they have seen that support jeopardized. Jeopardized with the best of intentions, to be sure, but jeopardized nonetheless.

And now the politicians are hot to solve the cotton problem and to save the cotton farmer once more again. Two bills to these ends have been proposed. That of Senator Cotton Ed Smith would frankly make up to the farmer in cash for previous ineptitudes of a cotton scheme partly of Senator Smith's own devising. But the Smith bill has one great virtue. By this cash inducement, it would put an end to the Government loans which have taken 11,000,000 bales out of trade channels and piled them up in warehouses, and by that token might be worth something of what it would cost.

The Bankhead bill has no such recommendation. To the contrary it would require the Government to give some 4,000,000 bales of its own cotton absolutely free to farmers to reduce their planting accordingly and it would fail to make this gift contingent upon a termination of the loan policy. Which would come down to this--that with one hand the Government would be giving away cotton, with the other buying it back all over again.

And the effect of a 4,000,000-bale reduction on the South's already reduced cotton crop would be incalculable. The cotton crop gives employment to hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers, many of them not far removed from destitution. For the small farmers and farm workers, a semi-Sabbatical year would mean either acute want or wholesale Federal relief. For the South it would mean a third and aggravated depression.

With a Decent Dignity

The business of government, as that of the courts, should by all means be transacted in the open. Any suggestion of secretiveness should be avoided as the plague.

Ah, yes; but a judge still might conduct his court openly without making a shindig of the proceedings. And so may the processes of government be conducted, as Senator Bailey has just demonstrated.

To the Senate Commerce Committee, which he chairmans, were submitted eleven Presidential appointments to assorted boards and commissions. Serious charges were filed against some of the appointees, a sub-committee set up to hear them. Anyone who cared to was welcome to appear before this body and testify, but testimony was taken in closed session and as far as we know not a single flashlight bulb was discharged or a single reputation smeared all over the front pages by accusers briefly enjoying immunity from the libel laws.

As a result, the whole Commerce Committee has accepted the report of its sub-committee, which calls the charges unfounded, and approved the whole lot of appointees. As a further result, it has been shown that public business can be transacted with dispatching dignity--qualities which we were beginning to believe were about to be replaced by the horse laugh.

Marking Time

That Mr. Bumble himself can really any longer believe in his "appeasement" policy seems altogether unlikely. Mussolini's admission that he is sending more troops into Libya, in open violation of the so-called "agreement" put into effect in November, shows pretty plainly that he means to press his demands for Tunisia. For months now, it has been reported by the correspondents that he already had from two to four times as many troops in Libya as the French had in the adjoining colony.

Furthermore, Bumble's attempt to detach Franco from Italy and Germany seems fated to failure. The General is reported to have renewed his assurances to the two dictators. And on the face of it, there is every reason to believe that he means it. For it is highly probable that, if Franco ever let himself be deprived of his Italian troops, the Spaniards would hang him in short order. He himself confesses that he has no faith in his popularity with his people when he refuses to hold a plebiscite, even under his own offices. He will certainly take all the British money he can get, but, having got it, he would treat his promises in the same cavalier fashion that Mussolini treats his own.

Altogether, it seems likely that Bumble is merely marking time and wringing his hands at present--that such moves as are being made are mere hocus-pocus designed to keep the English public from becoming too alarmed about the fact that, between Japan in the East and Italy and Germany in Europe, the British nation is in the tightest hole it has been in since Napoleon. And also to stave off the hour of reckoning as long as possible.


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