The Charlotte News

Thursday, January 11, 1940


Site Ed. Note: "The Solution" tells of the problem as well, and precisely how it would play out later in the State of Mississippi.

As to that, we note that just within the past week another accused lyncher of the times of the mid-sixties has been arraigned on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, brought by Federal authorities. (The crime of murder may be charged only by state authorities.)

James Ford Seale, reputedly a former Klansman, it is alleged, and an accomplice, a church deacon now cooperating with the government in the prosecution, picked up two hitchhikers, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Dee, in May, 1964, in Franklin County, Mississippi, a month before the murder of the three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Seale and his accomplice are alleged to have driven the pair to the Homochitto National Forest, there beat them unconscious, strapped a railroad tie and engine block to them, and then tossed them, still alive, into the Mississippi River finally to drown before waking. Their bodies were subsequently found near Tallulah, Louisiana during the search for the missing civil rights workers that summer. Both Seale and his accomplice were arrested at the time, but since the Justice Department's and the FBI's manpower was consumed in the case of the civil rights workers, the matter was handed to local authorities in Mississippi, who, as functionaries of the state court, pursuant to long tradition, which would carry into the initial prosecutions of the charged murderers of the civil rights workers as well, dismissed the charges.

It is sometimes a hard thing for us to fathom, that within the living memories of those of us no older than fifty, such things occurred within the South, in an age of automobiles, telephones, Ed Sullivan and "Bonanza", "Breathless" and "La Dolce Vita", nuclear missiles, jet age plastics, and manned space flight. The juxtaposition of those two powerful disconnects, the modern age full of itself, burgeoning forth, some of it, indeed a large part of it, drumming up out of the labor base of the South itself, but still not far from that hind portion, the dusty road switchback to the plantation era and its immediate aftermath, the red and white Chevy Impala, ironically named given some of its hooded drivers of the time, substituting for the roan with the cotton-threaded sheet over its mane and foretop, the cross in blood on its flanks.

Justice is sometimes not swift or mighty in such matters, and the victims and their families must sometimes wait beyond the graying of their children to see an accused brought to the bar for a given murder in that passing strange time of the last vestiges of the Old South in transition--but eventually, all lynchers have their time before it, that bar, be it on this side of the river or, surely more problematic for the malefactor after escaping any justice there, the other one.

So, though we often find ourselves in solid disagreement with the policies of the current Administration and its Justice Department on the stress generally it has caused against full and unchilled enjoyment of civil liberties in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, we take our hats off to it on this one. It is a seven-year old investigation by the Justice Department brought finally to charges, and thus was not initiated by the present Administration. Nevertheless, we take it all as we find it and we hope the case proceeds smoothly to justice, better late than altogether denied. If the man accused is innocent of the charges, then we all must hope he will go free and not become the scapegoat for an era. If he is guilty, however, then he must and should spend the rest of his natural life behind bars, as he will have enjoyed 43 years of life and the freedom more or less which every citizen, except those barred by their skin color in that 43-old era and earlier, enjoys, a freedom which the victims of the crime never had on this earth, a freedom which had they lived longer they might have enjoyed more fully by far than they ever had enjoyed it, certainly within the deep South, by 1964. At least, they are still survived by relatives who care and still remember of the terrible and swift crime, as terrible and swift as the current of the mighty Mississippi River in May, 1964, which carried their last thoughts to somewhere beyond our physical place by its banks, an ultimate crime, like so many of the era, which went unpunished, even unprosecuted.

But, no longer.

A couple of days ago, we were riding up a mountain path where once highwaymen and bandits robbed the Silverado stage. We were headed to a path to follow on the footsteps of a writer of some note who had spent a summer on this mountain in 1880, partly for his health, partly for his honeymoon. We re-traced our own steps along that path 31 years ago, though it certainly seems much closer in time than that. Gerald Ford was President, Patricia Hearst was standing trial in San Francisco for bank robbery, a little known peanut farmer was declaring his temerarious intention to become President amid the skepticism of a public whose sensibilities to politics and traditional politicians had been rasped by the ravages and excesses exposed in the Watergate scandal. There was much attention on the Bicentennial celebration. Both the immediately past Governor of California and the then present one had entered late into the fray of Presidential politics that year, each to make a splash in their respective parties. "The Ascent of Man", narrated by mathematician Jacob Bronowski, though dead since 1974, was a popular re-running series on public television at the time, tracing in scholarly and artistic detail the long avenue from the caves to modern civilization through which man in some semblance or another had striven. Ourselves, we had recently crossed the Badlands on the strains of Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid" and "Fanfare for the Common Man".

And now, the day before yesterday, we strove up that same mountain pathway where we had trod one cool afternoon in February, 1976; we were 31 years younger then, more wise in some ways, less in others probably, as is wont to occur with passing age.

So it came to be that the day before yesterday we strove up that same path as 31 years ago, just as this writer popularly known for his adventure stories had with his new bride 127 years ago this May, to find this spot where the writer wrote and lived a summer as the stagecoach carried him and his wife to and fro the nearest village, where the underground boiling springs kept the residents warm in winter and warmer in summer, as stories circulated among them of a dentist becoming the leader of a cadre of highway bandits and getting killed in the ensuing desperado chase into the hills, while the writer meanwhile had his first conversation over the new contraption called the telephone from the town below.

One age passing; another beginning, in juxtaposition, with all the attendant social chafing, bitter hatred in some for the new culture displacing that of the old, the tradition laden giving way to the lightsome fancy of modernity, giving rise in turn to the transient, the adventurer, the fortune seeker leaving the conventional trappings of the East and heading West to the New Land beyond the Mississippi, now in steady procession, ever-increasing, for three full decades and more.

Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio was President, coming to office in that tainted election of the centennial year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, an election in which he received less than Samuel Tilden in the popular vote, and nevertheless won the electoral college by the partisan vote of an appointed commission to decide disputed slates of electors in three Southern states, these holding the outcome thereby in the balance, the disputed slates themselves having been obtained by Republicans promising Southern electors an end to Reconstruction in the South in exchange for their nod to the Republican candidate, all transpiring amid the scandal-ridden era of Roscoe Conkling Republicanism which favored continued use of the patronage system, splitting the Republican Party into two factions, in a year which would by its end see the ill-fated election of James Garfield, also of Ohio, who campaigned against retention of the old system, a so-called Half-Breed Republican, shot by a disgruntled patronage seeker of the Conkling Stalwart branch of the Party in order to put Stalwart Chester A. Arthur into the White House.

George Perkins, a Republican from Kennebunkport, Maine, had just become Governor in January of this state where we trod day before yesterday, succeeding William Irwin, a Democrat from Ohio, who had been a newspaper editor, (as all the little towns had one, remarked the writer then).

Little has changed on that mountain in 127 years; indeed, little enough of a material nature, judging by the detailed account of the writer at the time, has changed even in the town below it. We saw, still extant, still petrified, the same tourist stop for the Petrified Forest that the writer saw, remarked upon, and visited 127 years ago, finding as its tender an old Swede, glad then to greet one of his "fellow countrymen" from Scotland as he too, said he to the writer, considered home to be Glasgow. (We ourselves consider home to be a place not that far really from Glasgow, but we hadn't the time this day, or chose not to take it, to stop to see if perhaps the old Swede, or maybe one of his descendants, was still present on the premises. Besides, though we saw no evidence of highwaymen, one never knows when a Duke Mantee might show on the scene; best to keep moving when the main goal of the journey has been achieved for the day. Next time, the Petrified Forest, maybe in another 31 years.)

But in that long circuitous walk there this February 2nd day, up that path where the writer before us, where our own shadow of a younger day since then but also before us, had once strode, we had to ask ourselves whether, through it all, the past 127 years, the past 31 years, the people who populate the region, the country of which it is part, the world in turn of which that country forms a part, have changed? Have they?

At base, we posit, probably not; for in a mere 31 years, in a mere 127 years, no people measurably change. Man's footprint on the planet is far too long and large for such a short space in man's measurable time here to effect much in the way of that sort of systemic change--changes in basic adaptation, changes in inherent emotion, inherent prejudice against this person or that because of some perceived difference, be it slight or large, changes in humor, changes in measures and modalities and stimuli to sadness, to happiness.

Life spans have become longer for sure, mortality rates lower. In England and Wales, for instance, the place from which the writer had come to this place for his health, the mortality rate in 1880 was 18.4 per thousand; in 1940, 12.5; that compared to 17.8 in the United States in 1900, the earliest date available nationally, reducing to 10.7 by 1940.

Some notorious diseases of the 19th century, such as the tuberculosis suffered by the writer, or malaria, have long since been controlled within the West and reduced to minimal numbers. Others, however, notably cancer, have increased as the carcinogens within our environs have steadily catapulted its cellular destruction into every household of every land on earth practically, far the greater terrorist than any suicide bomber bent on any achievable level of human destruction. (Is this, then, properly a disease, or is it more aptly societal suicide?)

But returning to our query: Has humanity itself changed fundamentally and in more than a mere transitory manner set by fashions of a particular era or decade, since 1880, since 1976? Ultimately, as we say, we think not. The human form is more generally well educated today than in 1880 certainly, more civilized thus by degrees as a whole body of beings, no longer prone in the West, in the industrialized countries with sufficient middle classes to cool the ardor of any tendencies toward internal revolt over provender and material want, to settle differences en masse by civil warfare, though violence in the streets was, for the very reverse of the reason indicated for its absence generally, a marked tendency in the summer heat of the mid 1960's regarding that central ingredient in American culture always seemingly at loggerheads with analysis and cool understanding, racial and socio-economic borders, that indefinite line painted astride the urban and suburban white settlement, that at least of the proper white, to delineate it on the one meandering side of the highway or roadbed, from that of the rest, be they white, black, red, yellow, or brown, primarily the latter four in a mix, on the other.

But, slowly, somehow, yet, we do progress, just as the stagecoach must have as it climbed the meandering road to that mountain back in May, 1880 carrying the writer and his new wife to their place of repose for the summer. Afterward, the writer went back to England and proceeded to write all of his best known works in the remaining fourteen years before his death at age 44.

As we rode to the place, incidentally, we heard on the radio a brief segment of a talk provided to an audience at Berkeley in 2004 regarding the speaker's disbelief at the incredible stupidity of those who had, ignoring history, placed us in the Iraq war a year earlier, ignoring the while intelligence militating to the contrary. The speaker said she had never seen so great a pile of horse fléchettes, (though we may not be quoting her verbatim here, for we hit a bump and the radio transmission momentarily wavered, and so we'll guess), in all her days, even though she had covered for a time the proceedings of the Texas Legislature.

She was always pithy and colorful, whether you disagreed with her point or not, and she was completely serious in her humorous approach to some of the absurdities of our time as she took her poniard, sometimes becoming a full-fléchetted epeé, and delightedly pricked the pricking post of politicians who were, or thought themselves to be, legion in their own time.

She died the other day, at only age 62, of cancer. She was a splendid columnist and an entertaining speaker, proving the exception to prove the rule on which Cash remarks in "Seduction", and we shall miss her liberal, swaggering Texas tongue, trolling the landscape for some wayward fulsome fecundator of anti-liberal circumspeak, or other exemplar of the reprobate variety, on which to report, editorially and humorously speaking.

Her voice was so large and so of that Texas plain and the best tradition both of Texas and the South at large, the heroic tradition which is the Spirit of '76 in truth, that we had thought she had been on the landscape far longer than she actually had. Or, perhaps, it is so because she so stuck out as an emblem of the best of American journalistic tradition because, as it appears increasingly, that tradition, the tradition of the outspoken, unabashed, temerarious voice, the tradition of the country, of the simple and plain folk who fought and won a revolution from the King over two hundred years ago, in principal part for that precious right to a free press, is that of a dying breed of those unafraid, for fear of reprisal.

But what would be the fun in that?

And so, to those who would seek to chill our freedoms, be it of speech, the right to associate with whom we please, the right to petition the government for redress of our grievances, the right to write and publish, our right to tell the story in our own phrases, in our own accents, in our own identities, varied and numerous though they inevitably will be in this land, the right to believe our own beliefs, even if stupid and shallow and hateful, the right to our own property unencumbered by the King's men who would search it without cause, hunting for something, anything to pin on the articulator of criticism to the King, to those who despised this speaker and her outspoken tongue and pen, we simply echo her phrase, at least the one which we ascribe to her by the fortuity, or not, of that momentary loss of radio wave transmission via the bump in the road, as we headed up to that mountain, backtracking to the place where we had been 31 years earlier, the place where the Scottish adventure writer wrote and thought and walked and spent his honeymoon in the summer of 1880: Horse fléchettes.

Peace to her liberal soul, that of Molly Ivins.

Incidentally, should you have wondered, or not, why we chose Groundhog Day, 2007 to return to this place on the mountain, not having been there for 31 years, we can report that it was a combination of serendipitous circumstance that placed us in the vicinity anyway and in another part simply because of a reflection from a few days ago, one which we must never be afraid to pursue. It's either that or kill the Sunday shopkeeper who gave you the looking glass to begin with, and, well, that wouldn't be so hot for any of us, now, would it?


We Warn Our Little Readers To Beware Those Voices

The memoirs, in yesterday's letter column, of our Mr. Brody Griffith, reminds us that there is a very great difference between the business of speaking and that of writing. Mr. Griffith reported that he was bored with FPA twenty years ago. And to be candid about it, we suspect that a great many other people were, too.

In our time we have known of editors who were perfect wows at making speeches but who fell into what Dean Landis of Harvard recently called "verbal hæmophilia" the moment they sat down to writing editorials. And most of the good editorial writers we have known were blushing school boys on the platform.

And we have our suspicions that what at least partly explains the heavy vote we are getting for the FPA column is the fact that Mr. Adams is such a charming fellow on the radio program, "Information, Please."

Edwin C. Hill is a case even more plainly in point. As a writer, Mr. Hill is the very best radio commentator we know anything about. And it is our guess that many of his supporters hear that fervid voice all too plainly when they set down to perusing his English I-A compositions in print.

Ah, well, we wouldn't discourage our little readers. We want them to vote as they please. We just thought it might be well to warn 'em.


The Germans Still Cling To Name Of Admiral Spee

The Germans are raising funds by popular subscription--contributed to by Germans living in the United States--to build a new Admiral Graf Spee.

It is a curious attachment to an ill-omened name. Count von Spee did, indeed, win one notable battle for the Germans in the last war. On Nov. 1, 1914, he came up with a British squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Craddock, off Coronel, Chile, and destroyed it, with the exception of one light cruiser which escaped. Admiral Craddock and 1,650 officers and men were lost--and the British charged bitterly that the Germans made no serious effort to rescue the drowning sailors after the ship had struck their flags. But the victory was somewhat less than a grand one. The Germans had five ships to Craddock's four (one of these merely an armed liner), and had all the advantages in speed and range of guns. Moreover, Craddock was so foolish as to draw up his ships against the setting sun.

And his defeat was to be speedily avenged. On Dec. 8, Admiral von Spee steamed into the Falklands, led there by a carefully planted story to the effect that he would find nothing to oppose him but one lone battleship. Actually he encountered a British squadron, turned tail, and sought to escape by running for it. But to no avail. One light cruiser got away, the rest of his squadron was sunk, the Admiral, three of his sons, and over 2,000 officers and men were lost. British efforts to rescue them were unavailing because of the iciness of the waters off Cape Horn. And to add the last grizzly touch, great flocks of albatrosses swooped down upon the drowning German sailors, as they clung with numbing hands to bits of wreckage, and tore out their eyes.

Not an altogether happy name in the annals of Germany, that of Spee. But they cling to it, nevertheless.


Death Of An Actress Moves Us To Observe A Hiatus

Flora Finch outlived her fame, and only the more assiduous readers of the movie gossip mags knew about her when she passed on. Even the generation which is growing gray around the temples and bald in front had about forgotten her. But not old John Bunny, with whom she used to appear in the two-reelers.

Bunny was the first of the fat boy comedians, and perhaps the best of them. Or is it merely that we are seeing him still through the eyes that were ours when we were very young? At any rate, he used to roll us in the aisles as none of the Fatty Arbuckles who came along in our more blasé days ever managed to do. And to many thousands of people, he remains a very real memory, though it is twenty-odd years now since he died.

All of which reminds us suddenly that the fat boy is no longer present on the screen. Burly fellows in plenty there are, of course. But the waddling, gently quivering fat, soft fellow with the big dumb face, is as completely missing as Ben Turpin's eyes and the Chaplin pants. Maybe, it is an accident, but on reflection we suspect that testifies to some quite real change in the American sense of humor--that the fat fellow no longer appeals to the risibilities of the younger fry, anyhow.

All of which, no doubt, is comforting to a lot of aldermanic looking gentlemen who themselves once howled hysterically over the sad plight of the Bunnys and the Arbuckles.

The Solution

Mississippi Sets Out To Cure Something Herself

Governor Hugh White, of Mississippi, and the peace officers of that state apparently don't mean for Mr. Gavagan to draw any arguments for this anti-lynching bill from their bailiwick, which has customarily furnished the very best arguments for it.

New Year's day two Negroes killed a town marshal at Prentiss. A mob formed, but Sheriff S. G. Magee hurried the prisoners away to Jackson for safekeeping in the State penitentiary. Monday they brought them back to Prentiss for trial; again a mob formed. But Sheriff Magee promptly asked the Governor for the militia, got it at once. And the hearing is proceeding with soldiers standing guard at all doors.

It is at once a challenge to Mr. Gavagan and a confession that Mississippi, like the rest of the Southern states, can solve her own lynching problem when she makes up her mind to it. From the reports of Tuskegee and the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, it is manifest that virtually all the lynchings which have given Mississippi her unsavory eminence in recent years have been accomplished with connivance or at least the acquiescence of the officers in charge of the prisoners. And one thing which has certainly been responsible for such an attitude on the part of the officer is that the Governors of Mississippi have been exceedingly apathetic in their efforts to stop the crime.

Site Ed. Note: Perhaps the following two passages, when read together, and with the rest which surround them, work out to suggest a more salutary, preventative and long-term solution to the ultimate problem which gave rise to such episodes as conveyed the need for the Gavagan bill, than the more transitory one set forth above:

More hopeful [than Senators Byrd, Glass, or Bailey] have been the Bankheads of Alabama. As I need not say, neither the Senator nor the late Speaker of the House could be accused of being Leftist in their proper sympathies. But both have shown a better grasp of the case of the tenant and sharecropper than almost any other Southern politicians, and both have exhibited a consistently wider understanding and sympathy for the masses in general than was usual in their Southern colleagues. Lister Hill, the new Senator from Alabama, shows some signs of sharing their sentiments. And there are perhaps some others.

By and large, however, the scene is pretty barren--...

...As for the tenant and sharecropper problem, the only attempt to deal with it is embodied in the Bankhead Law, which provides for Federal loans to selected landless persons who want to purchase farms. But the total number of such loans made in the whole nation in the last three years comes only to 13,000, which of course does not even begin to scratch the surface. It is altogether probable, indeed, that the problem is too staggering to be successfully met by any such simple device as government loans...

(The Mind of the South, Book III, "Of the Great Blight--and New Quandaries", Chap. III, sections 22-23, pp. 423, 426 of 1991 ed.)


Events Bear Out Bumble With Startling Swiftness

Old Mr. Chamberlain seems to have known what he was talking about when he warned the British Tuesday that grim times were ahead, and that the long failure of the Blitzkrieg to develop was not to be taken as proving that it never would develop.

Grim enough is the news that the British warships are looking for a German submarine base in the Canaries. Rumors of such a base have popped up repeatedly. And if they prove to be true, then it is plain evidence of treachery on the part of Franco, for the islands belong to Spain. It would probably spell the swift extinction of the Franco regime, for England is not likely to take such a move on that dubious person's part calmly, and Spain is wide open to her navy and that of France.

But grimmer still is the terrific force with which Germany has struck in British coastal waters. For it may well herald the beginning of wholesale air attack at last.

The season, indeed, is immensely unfavorable to Germany. For the prevailing winds all set eastward, and, while the heavy fogs may favor the approach of German planes to England, they will also greatly hamper their safe return.

But Adolf Hitler's need to strike increases by leaps and bounds. He desperately requires a showy victory of some sort to balance out the Graf Spee. Worse, today he has hardly dented British commerce. Worse still, Mussolini, emboldened by the British successes, has set out to block him in the Balkans, and so to deprive him of his last possible source of supply for a long war. And every day that passes sees the British grow more and more his equal in the air. And so it may be that he has taken desperate resolution to cast the dice for his one chance to win the war without waiting for the Spring.

If so, that will be grim for England, indeed. But also, it will be grim for Germany. For a hundred years that country has not had war brought within its own confines. It will certainly get it this time.

Site Ed. Note: For more on both the strategic relation, as well the spiritual forecast, of which the vicissitudes of weather have to warfare, see, for example, "And the Rains Came", June 18, 1938. Combined, perhaps the two pieces ultimately tell us why Japan made its move when it did on the resources afforded by first attacking Pearl Harbor to deliver the crippling blow to the United States Fleet, so as to provide the remainder of the Japanese navy time to establish island hopping footholds in the south Pacific chains, to form a protective ring around the rich mineral and rubber and tin, and otherwise elemental designs from which it would seek to wring its Empire's sustenance,--and that, too, of its wheel-driving puppet-master in Europe--from the time's store in the underground of Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Time on the Reich and its allies, by December 7, 1941, was running out, as the tanks were running low on that most precious of wartime commodities.

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green.
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen--

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

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