I just saw the play, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” This marvelously modernized rendition of the American classic explores not just racism, but also American society as it sheds light on the issues we face today.
“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
That was true in 1960 when the book To Kill A Mockingbird was published and is even more so in the Facebook and Twitter spheres.
“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
This was not only true in 1934, when the play takes place, or 1960, when the book was published, but all through our history. There were times of weeping and times of joy. There were “the best of times”, alternating with” the worst of times”. Historians know this.
How do we evaluate the times we live in and who gets to evaluate the times in which we live? Are they “a’ changin’? Are we doomed if we don’t pay attention to history? Can we at least learn to learn from it?
The first thing to learn is to calm down. regardless of the political camp in which you are entrenched.
To do this we must also remember that while humans are inclined to injustice, and that makes democracy necessary, democracy is possible because we are also capable of justice. Our history is filled with times that reflect each of those traits. Usually they alternate.
Let’s travel back in time, shall we, to the 1790’s. The Alien and Sedition Acts were politically motivated anti- Immigration and anti “enemies list” laws passed by the Federalist Adams administration to win reelection and beat Jefferson’s “Democrats” in 1800. It worked. Sort of. It’s complicated. See “Hamilton” and then jump to the early 19thcentury to the attempts by South Carolina to ignore Federal law, or the anti -Immigration (then Roman Catholic) Know Nothings Movement prior to the Civil War.
Oh yeah, that!
Then of course we had the political deal that ended Reconstruction (a period that included the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments) and brought Jim Crow and segregation to the South (including the Klan).
Rutherford B Hayes. Yes, that famous president… was “elected” in 1876. Democrat, Samuel J. Tilden of New York actually almost won the Electoral College and was 1 short of winning with 184 electoral votes to Republican Hayes’ 165, with 20 disputed electoral votes.
Those were ultimately awarded to Hayes after Congress set up a special electoral commission to determine the winner, composed of fifteen congressmen and Supreme Court justices. The vote was 8-7 along party lines to award the disputed electoral college votes to Hayes, making him the winner.And there went one of the most progressive eras in our history…ended by a colluded election.
Had enough yet? Had America become greater all through that time? Overall it had, but not for all.
The late 19thand early 20thcentury brought both the Industrial Revolution and the Progressive Reform era that followed to temper the harsh realities of the inequities brought on by the Revolution, its Gilded Age, and its Conspicuous Consumption. These ended with the 16th– 20thAmendments making the US a broader and better democracy for more Americans, but still not all.
World War 1 may have made the world safe for Democracy, but it didn’t do much for people trying to come to our democracy. It led to insanely tight immigration laws because we were afraid of Eastern and Southern European immigrants who might be…. not terrorists, but anarchists…. (the fear inducing word of that day). Why?
First, The Russian Revolution and the implementation of real socialism (when the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned or controlled by the national government) under a “dictatorship of the proletariat” which in fact was a dictatorship of the Communist party scared the crap out of us.
Second, movements led by unionists and socialists in this country unnerved many. For example, socialist and anarchist Italians, Sacco and Vanzetti were accused of a heinous murder. Jewish union leaders like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman (both Russian immigrants) were branded as Communists.
So, the Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, was formulated mainly in response to the large influx of Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. It restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States as of the 1910 US Census.
Apparently, that didn’t go far enough. In 1924, a second immigration act replaced it by reducing the quota to 2% per the Census of 1890 when a much smaller percentage of the population was from the regions euphemistically regarded as “less than desirable”.
The 1920s and 1930s (see the play or read the book) weren’t too good if you were Black either.
During the Tulsa Race Riot, which occurred over 18 hours on May 31-June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, and burned down homes and businesses in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history, and one of the least-known. News reports were largely squelched, despite the fact that hundreds of people were killed, and thousands left homeless.
That’s just one example. The Klan had millions of members and openly paraded in Washington D.C. There were thousands of lynchings and uncounted murders and falsely convicted victims of injustices.
The economically booming Roaring Twenties were followed by the Great Depression and World War 2. That’s when FDR remembered what his old school master said,“Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights—then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization is forever upward.”
OK… TIME OUT.
Geezus, History sheds light on things. The media of the time does as well. There was NO mass media until radio was not just invented, but actually only popularized at the end of the Depression. But even then, in1934, only 60 percent of the nation’s households had radios. Even when it grew post World War 2, it was primarily for entertainment. Newspapers were predominantly local. It would take days for the New York Times to get to Los Angeles. It was Old News, not Fake News.
TV was more national yet even with its rapid growth, at the dawn of the 1950s, no more than 30 percent of the nation’s population was within reach of network programming. The “News” was on TV 15 minutes a day. The election of 1960 was influenced by news specials covering the Nixon-Kennedy debates. It wasn’t until the 1960s when newly expanded Network News shows showed America to Americans as we watched the Civil Rights struggle and Vietnam.
The World Wide Web is only 28 years old and only a national political force since social media giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter came on board in 1998, 2004, and 2006, and many would say it took a few years after that to produce what we now call social media mania. It is why people think today’s world is so much worse than our up and down history. “People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
That’s the end of part one. Why stop here? Because social media has trained you to have no attention span. So, if you read this far and are partly insulted…. good for you!
There will be more to come.
“Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”