Archive for December, 2010

Edison Didn’t Invent the 1st Light Bulb, Just the best. And No One Remembers the Other Guys
December 31, 2010

Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Looks Like Me Trying to Forecast

Edison Invention Factory

Edison Invention Factory

On This Date in History: In 1876, Thomas Edison did perhaps the smartest thing he ever did. He created an invention factory. He moved his staff of 15 people into a large clapboard building filled with all sorts of scientific equipment and chemicals in Menlo Park, New Jersey which was then just a small rural hamlet. I’m not certain but it may have been the first research laboratory ever established and Edison proclaimed that he would produce “a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” At the time, many thought the claim was preposterous but 10 years later, Edison had been granted 420 patents…that averages out to one every 3.5 months.

First Edison Light Bulb

First Edison Light Bulb

Perhaps his most famous invention was the first practical incandescent light bulb. Note the word “practical.” See, other people had applied for patents for lights but they didn’t last too long. They tried to “sub-divide” electric light or somehow make it weaker. Edison for his part kept trying to use a filament to electrify and make glow. He kept trying platinum but it kept burning up. So, he used a sort of cardboard covered in carbon but that didn’t work so well either until he created a vacuum in glass. The filament didn’t burn but instead glowed brightly. On this date in 1879, Thomas Alva Edison lit up the new year by demonstrating for the first time publically his incandescent light.

Southern Exposition 1883

Southern Exposition 1883

A couple of other items. First off, by June 1882, Edison had demostrated how the light could be used in a system and wires were laid and a small area of New York was illuminated. But, on August 1, 1883 20,000 incandescent lights burned brightly in the largest display ever seen in the world. I believe that represented more lights than existed in all of New York City. The place of this display? Louisville, Kentucky at the Southern Exposition. The building was a huge palacial area that stood for five years during the time of the exposition. It stood where you will find St. James Court today. Now, Edison gets all of the credit for the electric light and a whole slew of other inventions. But, he had an entire staff working for him. I’ve always wondered how many of those inventions really came about due to the ideas and work of his staff. Certainly it was Edison’s inspiration, but I wonder about the rest. I suppose it may be a case of those who have the gold makes the rules.

Congress Once Funded an Expedition To Determine if the Earth Was Hollow
December 31, 2010

Harper's Weekly 1882 Symmes Hole Illustration

Harper's Weekly 1882 Symmes Hole Illustration

What Seems Idiotic Today Was Considered Fact in the Past

On This Date in History:   17th Century astronomer Edmund Halley  is more famous for the comet that bears his name but it is less well-known that he also suggested that the earth had four concentric spheres and that there was a hollow area in the center with small entrances at each pole. Inside the hollow earth, Halley said there was life and there was illumination. He thought that the aurora was caused by gasses being released from the openings at the poles. Well, this guy John Symmes carried on that idea and began a series of lectures designed to gain financial support for an expedition. He said, “I ask 100 brave companions…to start from Siberia…I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals…northward of latitude 82.” He wanted to sail over the curved rim of a polar hole into a hollow earth. Symmes must have been very convincing because after speeches given in Rossville and Hamilton, Ohio on this date (Dec 30) in 1823, the two towns passed resolutions the following day stating that the earth was hollow.  Later, Hamilton built a monument to their native son hollow earther Symmes, who not only convinced the people of the Ohio towns, but also some Congressmen who tried to get public funding for the expeditions. A hollow earth fellow traveler and newspaperman, Jeremiah N. Reynolds, joined the chorus by stressing the commercial potential of the eccentric expedition. Today, Congress might hide an earmark for the funding but in 1823, it showed fiscal restraint.

Reed's Version of Symmes Hole

Reed's Version of Symmes Hole

However, that restraint didn’t last too long because, 15 years later, the Congress actually appropriated $30,000 for Charles Wilkes to sail to Antarctica. In 1838, Wilkes set sail with 6 wooden ships to check out the South Pole. He first tried to nose in but was rebuffed when amidst strong winds, high seas and pack ice; one of his ships sunk taking the full crew with it. So, he decided on a different route, venturing into the South Pacific and charting Hawaii, Tahiti and Samoa. Sounds like Uncle Sam funded a nice vacation in island paradises to me. However, unlike Fletcher Christian, Wilkes did not get so enamoured by Tahiti and he sailed to Australia and then to the South Pole. He actually ended up making a pretty decent map of the frozen continent and today there is a 1500 mile stretch of coastline in Antarctica named Wilke’s Land.

John C Symmes II

None of that would have happened without the outlandish claims of Symmes and Reynolds, who planted the seed for Congress to fund an expedition to Antarctica to find the hole in the earth. Now, when Admiral Byrd flew over the poles(1926 and 1929), it should have put to rest the rumors of a hollow earth. But, like those who want to chase Chemtrails, hollow earth proponents refused to accept the facts and instead claim that Byrd actually entered “Symmes Hole” because Byrd had referred to Antarctica as the “Land of Everlasting Mystery” and said, “I’d like to see the land beyond the pole. That area beyond the pole is the center of the great unknown.” In 1906, William Reed took a different tact and said there was no north and south pole but instead there were entrances to the center of the earth and in 1913, Marshall Gardiner went so far as to say that there was sun 600 miles in diameter in the center of the earth. Of course, no one has reported any holes but…the claim was that the government was covering up the truth!  So, there you have it…it can’t be any more clear…Admiral Byrd has gone into the hollowed out earth and there is a government conspiracy to prevent anyone from finding out…I told you that it sounded like Chemtrails.  It’s a weird story from the past but perhaps its a good reminder that throughout history today’s facts of science sometimes become tomorrow’s silly stories.  Then again, there are those today who still believe the earth is hollow or that there is no proof one way or another regarding the center of the earth.

A Dirty Ring Around the White House Bathtub
December 28, 2010

Rub a Dub Dub, Big Bill Taft's Bath Could Hold Four Men In a Tub

I Don't Know if Big Bill is Right because I don't think being Secretary of War counts as part of the legislative branch. Either Way, the Tub story is more fun

On This Date in History:   According to H.L. Mencken, the first bathtub was installed in the White House in 1851 by President Millard Fillmore. Mencken wrote in a New York newspaper that the first bathtub in the United States was an “elegant mahogany contraption” installed in the home of a Cincinnati businessman in 1842. He said after that point, that the practice of bathing became popular with the wealthy. He said when word reached the masses a public outcry against the “epicurean and obnoxious toy from England” was “designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the republic.” Mencken added that it was Fillmore was responsible for the public’s acceptance for the habit of regular bathing. On this day in 1917, Mencken was basking in the glow created by his article in the New York Evening Mail titled” A Neglected Anniversary.”

He was probably still chuckling the day after his work was published because it was an elaborate hoax. December 1917 was a time of great sadness around the world due to World War I. He decided that a spoof on bathtub history would be a good way to raise the spirits fo his readers.  And who better to include in the hoax but the historically hapless Millard Fillmore.   Mencken’s joy turned to shock when he learned that his words were taken as Gospel. In 1926, he was so uneasy with the fact that his fiction was considered to be real history that he wrote a public confession of his hoax. But, no one listened and the result of his little tale have continued to this day with some sources claiming that Fillmore did indeed install the first bathtub in the White House. The real truth is that copper bathtubs and a shower were installed in the Executive Mansion on the first floor in 1833 or 1834. A permanent bathtub was put in the second floor of the White House in 1853. Mencken would have been better off publishing a true story about the White House bathtub. President William Howard Taft was 6’2″ and weighed a rotund 300 pounds. He had once become stuck in the normal presidential tub. So, he installed a tub that was 41 inches across and 7 feet long. It is said that it could hold four regular size men. The truth was stranger than fiction and this little story may be a good example of how if a lie is told enough times by enough people, then the lie becomes the truth. It also may be a good example of how we should not necessarily believe everything that we read.  And then again, perhaps it is telling that William Howard Taft is best known for being the fattest president, having a huge bathtub, standing up in the middle of the 7th inning to begin the “7th inning stretch” tradition and splitting the ticket with Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign and vaulting Woodrow Wilson to the presidency.  The fact that he was the only person to serve as President and Supreme Court Chief Justice gets lost.   He was also Secretary of War.  Maybe if he’d done something more interesting while holding the important jobs then he wouldn’t be remembered as he is.  But, it could be worse, he could be remembered like Millard Fillmore who is but a footnote.  Besides, its more fun this way.

Abraham Lincoln Authorized the Largest Mass Execution in US History
December 26, 2010

Largest Mass Execution in US History Was Authorized by Abraham Lincoln and it had little to do with the Civil War

On This Date in History: The conflict between the American Indians (aka Native Americans) and European (White) settlers goes back to the original landing of Europeans at Roanoke Island and Jamestown. Just about every time the Indians tried to flip a deal, that deal was broken, most often by the Whites. Sometimes it was by design. Other times, it was not from a formal governmental policy but instead from the fact that White settlers just ignored the treaties. When the British won the French and Indian War, a policy was implemented that prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians. Settlers went into the Ohio Valley anyway. Whether it be British or later American governments, they either had no ability or no desire to enforce the treaties. Many times, it was a combination of government policy, government indifference and settler behaviour that resulted in the fracture of any given treaty. In the end, the result was the same: the Indians got screwed.

In 1851, the Dakota in what is now the northern plains states figured that their only chance for survival was to make peace. On July 23, 1851 the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux called for two bands of the Dakota to cede a big chunk of the southwestern part of the Minnesota Territory (including present day parts of South Dakota and Iowa) to the United States for $1.665 Million. A few months later, two more bands of Dakota gave up a big chunk of the southeastern part of the territory for $1.41 Million. That’s a lot of money today and was an enormous sum back then. Remember, Alaska was purchased for $7.2 Million and about 1/3 of the continental US was had for $15 Million with the Louisiana Purchase. The French and the Russians accepted a check from the US Treasury but the Indians were basically given a promise in the form of future payments and annuities. Hmmm….guess what happened?

White Refugees Escaping the Battles

The Dakota was removed from their lands to reservations but the payments were not as forthcoming. The US government decided it was best to disperse payments over time through Indian Agents. It’s hard for me to ascertain but it appears that those agents, more or less, sub-contracted out some of the work to traders. I believe that, as far as the government was concerned, payments were being made. But, the agents and traders tended to either pocket much of the money for themselves or use it for other purposes. Agents often used monies intended for the Indians to pay claims made against the Indians by White settlers. Over time, the poor guys on the reservations began to starve. As they say, the natives became restless. In 1857, a group of Dakota had an uprising that resulted in the deaths of 40 settlers in what was known as the “Spirit Lake Massacre.” A year later, the Indians tried to make nice by ceding part of their reservation lands to the settlers. That didn’t get them anything except a smaller reservation.

Harper's Weekly Somewhat Propagandized the Affair

By 1862, the Civil War was raging and the Dakota was starving. Confederate agitators were providing some supplies to the Indians and encouraging them to rise up. Johnny Reb wasn’t so much concerned with the plight of the Native Americans as much as they were hoping that they would cause such a problem that it would divert attention and resources from the Union War effort. In any event, I don’t think that the Dakota needed much encouragement. They were getting fed up and their families were starving. Rumors that the payments were not going to be made in gold due to the war really got them going. And the deceptions of the White men involved were numerous and had a long history. So, on August 18, 1862 they staged a huge uprising. Well, that’s what many histories call it. Ultimately, what the Indians were doing to leaving the reservation in search of food and if some Whites got in the way, well that was too bad. At least one group went to a settlers chicken coop and grabbed some eggs.

To make a long story short (er), the Indians were defeated and several hundred Indian males were captured.  They had military trials and were sentenced to death.  The trials weren’t exactly fair but it also wasn’t the total case for murder that some sources cite.  See, if the crimes of violence were indeed violations of the law, then punishment was justified.  BUT…the trials were considered to be part of a military commission and the commanders decided that the defendants therefore were not afforded counsel.  Then, the level of criminality suitable for the death sentence seems to have been pretty liberal.  If someone were to have been shown to have provided ammunition, or fired a single shot or done anything to help, the sentence was death.  And the evidence provided even for those types of charges was pretty thin in many cases.  No doubt, some of the accused had done acts of violence that resulted  in death of combatants or innocent victims.  But, the standards for trial would not have come close to passing muster in a modern courtroom; military or civil.  They took the word of some Indians and “half-breeds” who turned states evidence in return for lenient sentences, but they refused to consider testimony related to those who were said to have prevented murder and rape.  So, 303 men faced the gallows.

Lincoln's order authorizing the execution of 39 men

Well, President Lincoln had a dilemma.  If he allowed the executions, then European nations may take a dim view of the Union and in 1862 things weren’t going so well for the North and there was a real fear that France, England and Russia might come to support the South.  So, Lincoln made a compromise.  He reviewed some cases and determined that 39 executions could take placeOn this date in 1862, the largest mass hanging in US history took place when 38 Dakota Indians were hanged for their “crimes.”  One lucky soul at the last moment was given a reprieve by the military commander.  It’s a little known and sad episode in America and one that is often lost in the historiography of Abraham Lincoln.  It seems to contradict the notion as “Father Abraham” being the “Great Emancipator.”  In fact, it is somewhat ironic that Lincoln had already announced his Emancipation Proclamation that would take effect just 6 days after the execution of the Dakota.  But, it’s difficult to make judgements using present day sensibilities and try to transport them back to the 19th Century.  It was  different time.

 Also, Lincoln’s main objective was preserving the Union and so he probably didn’t take the time to review the situation as much as he might have otherwise.  But, the story itself is an interesting example in how the injustices done to the Native Americans of this nation seem to take a back seat to the injustices done to African-Americans or other minorities or immigrants.  Even today, as the Indians figured out how to take advantage of their status and open up Casinos beyond the reach of the IRS, state governments have tried to use courts to force them to break the treaties of the past and force them to pay taxes.  Some things don’t change…then again…some do because the courts of the late 20th century have told the state and federal governments that they cannot get their hands on the pocketbooks of the sovereign nation.  But, that’s little consolation for the 38 who swung at the end of the rope.

Weather Bottom Line:  The cold stretch is about to come to an end for awhile.  I see most forecasts call for temps to get to the 50’s as we head to the new year.  But, it will be interesting to see how it shakes out because I’ve seen some modeling data that wants to create a huge ridge that takes warm, moist gulf air all the way to the Great Lakes and Louisville pushing 70 degrees on New Years Day with a line of very strong storms approaching.  Hmmmm….probably wont be 70 but don’t be surprised to ring in the new year with some thunderstorms,which I suppose at this point is a nice break from rain.  I think we could do without the severe stuff though but we’ve had tornadoes in January in the past few years.  Not predicting that, but it’s not totally out of the question.  After that (I hate long-term forecasts) but it looks like we fall back to seasonal levels but nothing overly brutal temperature wise but again, i”m talking 10 days out and the models tend to trend toward climatology that far out so we’ll see.  Nevertheless, expect a thaw to end 2010.

A Christmas Thought
December 24, 2010


So, This is Christmas: This time of year, Christmas becomes a focus of attention. Sometimes, we hear about the scrooges out there. Sometimes we hear about the sad stories. Other times, we hear of heartlifting stories of people serving their fellow man, giving others a hand or stories of families making long overdue reunions. It used to be heard more often on public airwaves, but still we do hear the Christmas story of which the entire holiday has been based. Oh….there are the fights about communities and their “holiday parades” and the politically correct argument about saying “happy holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas,” or the annual fight about public displays. But, still the majority of Americans accept the basis of the holiday.

Does Snoopy Have it Right?

Does Snoopy Have it Right?

Now, some naysayers like to get to the root of the holiday saying that Christmas was really derived from pagan rituals and the ancient celebration of Winter. And you know what? There is some truth to that. If you read the biblical account of the birth of Jesus, you also find that the shepherds were in their fields tending their sheep, which suggests that it was not winter. So, it seems likely that the actual birth was not on December 25th, but since no one knows exactly when the birth occured, the early Church determined that December 25th was a good time. Perhaps it was an effort by the early Church to quash the pagan winter celebrations. But, to me, that is a poor excuse to dismiss the story of Christ’s birth as false. It is simply a history of the celebratory day.

Take a look at this.

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Now, there is talk that this passage from Isaiah is flawed in that the Hebrew word used in the original text is “almah” and that literally means “young woman” and not “virgin.” However, the bible never refers to an “almah” in connection with a married woman and the bible is clear that an unmarried woman is to be a virgin. Therefore, the use of “virgin” as opposed to “young woman” is completely logical.

But, all of that is semantics. Let’s get to the bottom line. Ultimately, this comes down to Faith and I fully accept that my Faith is not necessarily that of others and there is no reason for people to call each other names. But, consider that the words from Isaiah were written some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Some people are more likely to believe in the words of Nostradomus but not Isaiah even though it takes a little more imagination to create truths about the Frenchman.

As I can attest, things don’t always go the way we want them to go and we have set backs, obstacles and difficulties in life. Christmas time is not immune from that. For the past two years Snow White were in a bit of and unpleasant, unexpected circumstance.  It was tough (especially the second year) but were thankful for what we had and for each other. We feel blessed with our circumstance whether it be tough times or the many friends we have, our families and the fond memories we have and the memories still left to make. Christmas is a time of love and hope for the future.  Two years ago,  there is no way that I could ever have imagined that we would be where are we are today.  And yet,  here we are.  While I have many people to thank, I know that Providence was at work.  Nothing lasts forever and you never know what happens when you try.  Christmas is a time of gift giving.  It is ultimately the story of the ultimate gift to all who will receive.  I have found that, if I get out of the way and stop grabbing at gifts and instead let my heart be open to accept them and to give to others, then all of the issues and problems of our world suddenly aren’t so difficult.  Everything is not perfect right now but for the first time in 12 years, I get to spend 4 days in a row with just my wife and my kitty cat, and that is a gift in itself.  Snow White and I wish to extend to you and your families a very Merry Christmas and a blessed, happy new year.

Weather Bottom Line:  You know, for the majority of the dozen or so years I’ve been in Louisville, we had a White Christmas, if one considers a White Christmas as being one with snow on the ground.  Even if it has to snow on Christmas to fit the definition of the term methinks arose from the Bing Crosby movie and song, we had a number of those over the years.  This year will be no exception regardless of how you look at it. I don’t think you get snowed in on Christmas Eve but several inches will provide an opportunity for a snow angel or a snowman and then on Christmas Day look for flurries or maybe a snow shower.  Be careful on the roads and I’ll leave you with a weather Christmas story.  Whenever it snows, Snow White and I like to go out stomping about in it at about 3 AM.  We did that one time when there was about 10 inches.  When we returned to our driveway, we noticed two snow angels had been made.  By this time it was about 4 AM and we could not imagine who could have been out and about to make them.  So, I looked for footprints that might give a clue.    There were none.  I have no idea how those two snow angels got on our driveway…but I bet that it was not Nostradamus.

First in War, First in Peace: A Eulogy For the Man Who Transcends the Ages
December 19, 2010

General of the Armies Forever

General of the Armies Forever

On this Date in History: General George Washington was eulogized on this date in 1799 with words that have come to describe him in American lore ever since. The ailing former president had died at his home, Mount Vernon, on December 14, 1799 and Congress chose a Virginian to deliver the eulogy. The man had been a close associate of Washington for much of his life and served with distinction under Washington’s command in the Continental Army. The eulogy went as follows….you’ll recognize the beginning:

Different Writing But Words Last Forever

Different Writing But Words Last Forever

“First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate and sincere—uniform, dignified and commanding—his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. . . . Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.”

Who was the man who delivered those memorable words? “Light Horse” Harry Lee, who served as a general during the American Revolution who had a son named Robert. Robert E. Lee went on to establish quite a legacy himself. The mourning period for Washington went on for a couple of months (click here for details) with “mock” funerals and processions held in cities all across the fledgling nation. The official day of mourning was what would have been Washington’s 68th birthday, February 22, 1800. If you’ve been a consistent reader of this here blog, then you can tell the high regard that I have for General Washington. We often hear of lists of the “greatest presidents” and most often, you find Washington’s name at the top, even above Lincoln. People tend to forget that, without George Washington, we would probably not have a country. Many of the traditions and policies, even today, of the nation can be traced to George Washington, whom in 1976, President Ford posthumously appointed George Washington General of the Armies of the United States (history of title) and specified that George Washington would forever be considered the highest ranking American General Officer, past and present. Nobody does it better…not even Bond.

Try Reading This

Try Reading This

Prior to that, in 1663, the Indians were brought to Christianity. The Massachusetts Bay Colony founded the first college in America in 1636 with a primary purpose being to educate Puritan ministers. Two years later, it was named for John Harvard who had left the college his personal 400 book library and half of his estate. Harvard’s first president had a dream of educating Indians to preach Puritanism to their fellow Indians. Several Indians were chosen to attend Harvard’s “Indian College” but only four attended as the others died of “hecktick fevers.” Joel Iacoomis was returning from a trip to Martha’s Vineyard when he became shipwrecked on Nantuckett, where he was done in by the natives who apparently didn’t appreciate his education. One, named simply Eleazer, died after he wrote a elegy in Greek and Latin. John Wompas didn’t die but instead quit after a year and bought a house on Boston Common. He got thrown in jail for not paying his debts but escaped to be an interesting real estate agent…he sold an entire town he didn’t own! It’s unclear if he brokered the deal for Manhattan. It must be noted that John Harvard’s Journal in 1997 said that Wompas became a “mariner.” I like the real estate story better. Only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated. He spoke Greek and Latin. But, then he died of tuberculosis when the next spring rolled around. I suppose that the Indians figured that attending Harvard was not a recipe for a long life because no one else signed up.

The Indian College sat vacant for many years, housing just a printing press. It was on that press that John Eliot produced the Algonquian Bible. Eliot’s work was the first bible produced in America.  It was 1200 pages and was called, “probably as good as any version that has been made…in a previously unwritten and so called barbarous language.” It took three years to print and its no wonder considering the english word “begat” translated to “wunnaumonieu” in Algonquian. A rare first edition turned up and was sold at auction on this date in 1986 for $220,000, which seems like a paltry sum to me for something so rare…but then again, there’s probably no one left who can speak Algonquian so it’s really just an expensive conversation piece.

It’s Takes a Hard Days Night to Imagine that John Lennon has been Gone for 30 years
December 8, 2010


On This Date in History: John Lennon was shot and killed on this date in 1980. I remember I was in my dorm room at Jester Hall at the University of Texas at Austin. 13th floor…methinks it was room 1325. Gary Hindman was my roomate. I called him Captain America. It was a Monday night because Howard Cosell announced the shooting toward the end of Monday Night Football.

Public Gathers Outside The Dakota

Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, lived in an apartment in New York called The Dakota. A bunch of people were hanging around waiting to catch a glimpse of the couple. Mark David Chapman was a messed up guy who got into reading JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. He related to the protagonist of the novel about disaffected youth. Chapman lived in Hawaii and decided that he would shoot Lennon since he mused that Lennon was a phony. He bought a gun in Hawaii and flew to New York. He called his wife to tell him what he was going to do but she did not report it or say anything because she did not believe him. Chapman was unable to purchase ammunition for his gun in New York so he flew to Atlanta where he bought dum-dum bullets and a copy of Catcher in the Rye. He returned to New York and when Lennon and Ono emerged from The Dakota, he shot him in the back and then twice in the shoulder. I read some report that claimed Lennon lost 80% of his blood.

Chapman Mugshot Dec 9 1980

An interesting thing about Lennon’s death is that the reporting and public reaction were similar to that when JFK, RFK and MLK were assassinated. It mirrored what would happen a few months later when President Reagan was shot…I was in Jester Hall then too. But those guys were all politicians. He was a musician but one who had an influence perhaps on par with presidents. Now, Chapman at the last moment pleaded guilty instead of copping an insanity plea. He was given 20 years to life….

Here’s the kicker….he went to Attica Prison where in 1970 the famous riot broke out and Lennon became inspired to write Attica State, aka Free All Prisoners Everywhere. Chapman became a born-again Christian in prison and does evangelical writing.

Here’s a detailed sketch regarding the death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980.

The Factual Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott Flowed Like an Orchestra
December 5, 2010

Rosa Parks Was More Than a Simple Seamstress Who Wanted to Ride the Bus

Real story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott is Lost in Many Historical Narratives

On This Date in History:  Often times, when history becomes part of the popular lexicon, facts get obscurred in a sanitized or abbreviated version.  In some cases, the blurring of facts is done intentionally.  In other instances, it is a result of lazy or ignorant members of the media or simply from an effort at brevity.  Most of the time, the ultimate storyline remains true at the expense of accuracy.  The process often concludes with the creation of a mythology that raises some figures to great heights while diminishing the efforts of others that history may otherwise lift to the champion pedestal.  The story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 provides an example of a historical events that involve all of the elements mentioned.  Many narratives incorrectly mark the start of the 381 day boycott heard round the world.

Robinson May Have Been the Original Force Behind the Boycott

The general story is that a seamstress, Rosa Parks, got on a public Montgomery bus and sat in a seat toward the front and was arrested for doing so and that sparked the boycott that many people point to be the initiation of the Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But, there was much more to the story that really had its roots many years before.  You see, all the way back in 1943, Rosa Parks had an issue with the bus service when she paid her fare only to see the bus drive away before she could board through the back entrance as the  driver had instructed her to do.  However, there was another incident in the 1940’s that involved a woman who has been lost to history but whom Dr. Martin Luther King described in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom  as “indefatigable”  and whom he acknowledged was “perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.”   The person of whom King referred was Alabama State College professor Jo Ann Robinson who in 1949 boarded a sparsely occupied bus and inadvertently sat in the front seat.  The driver unmercilessly screamed at her until she fled the vehicle in tears.  Her response was to attempt to start a protest boycott.  But, when she approached her fellow members of the Woman’s Political Council with her story and proposal, she was told that it was “a fact of life in Montgomery.”  A year later, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church pastor Rev. Vernon Johns, whom is referred by some as the “father of the Civil Rights movement,” refused to give up his seat for a white passenger and was subsequently evicted from the bus.  He asked other African-American riders on the bus to leave with him in protest.  The other passengers rebuffed his urging by  telling him that he should have known better.  It’s worth noting that Jo Ann Robinson was part of Vernon Johns’ Dexter Avenue Baptist Church congregation.

At 15, Colvin Could Have Been Parks Before Parks

So, you see, many historians suggest that the Montgomery Bus Boycott had its origins well before 1955 and it actually involved persons of some prominence.  The circumstance also was not just happenstance.  After the US Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in public education, Robinson, who had ascended to the position of president of the Women’s Political Council,  informed the mayor of Montgomery that some 25 local organizations were considering a bus boycott to protest the city bus system policies.  The following year, the same Women’s Political Council that told Robinson in 1949 to forget about a bus boycott,  decided to listen to the call of their president and determined that  such a protest was in order.  But, leadership in the African-American community recognized that they needed a catalyst that would outrage Black bus riders enough to the point that they would respond affirmatively.  They wanted to find a person who was “above reproach” and who would agree to challenge the segregation laws in court.  They thought that they had found their person when 15 year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested in early 1955 for refusing to give up her seat.   Miss Colvin was active with the NAACP Youth Council and  NAACP Montgomery Chapter President Edgar D. Nixon thought that Ms. Colvin would be the perfect person to get a boycott plan started.  His hopes were dashed, however, when it was learned the teenager was pregnant.  That brings us back to Rosa Parks. 

Photo Part of Effort to Portray Parks as a Simple Seamstress When In Reality She was Very Involved With the Organizers of the Boycott

Miss Parks was not just a simple seamstress.  In reality, she was a well-respected, educated woman with an unassailable record who had attended the laboratory school at Alabama State College; the same college for whom Jo Ann Robinson was a professor.  Parks was a seamstress but only because she could not find a job that fit her skill set.  However, for many years, Miss Parks was also working for the NAACP, serving as the volunteer secretary for President Edgar Nixon since December 1943.  She and her husband became members of the Voters League in 1944 and, for a brief time, she held a job at Maxwell Air Force Base where there was prohibited.  She often rode a desegregated Trolly on the base and she told her biographer that “Maxwell opened my eyes up.”    By the end of 1955, she had returned from Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN where she completed a workshop on race relations.   That trip was encouraged and sponsored by a politically liberal white couple, Clifford and Virginia Durr,  for whom Parks worked as a seamstress and housekeeper.  When the young Colvert was arrested early in 1955, Parks took a keen interest in her case.

Nixon Also Was Arrested During the Boycott

Many narratives suggest that, since it was known (and Parks had experienced first hand) that the bus driver on Park’s chosen route had strong racist tendencies and used harsh measures to enforce Montgomery segregation policy, Parks was encouraged to create an incident that would serve as a catalyst for a planned boycott.  Other narratives imply it was simply a coincidence that it was Parks who got arrested.  In any event, on Thursday, December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks found herself on the 5th row of a crowded bus.  The rules were that Blacks and Whites could not share a seat and that Blacks could only sit from the 5th row to the back of the bus.  The first 4 rows became crowded with Whites and a white man was left standing in the aisle.  The driver instructed the Blacks on the 5th row to move to the back of the bus.  The other riders on Parks’ row complied but Rosa did not.  She was arrested and NAACP President Nixon called to find out on what charge his secretary was being held.  After has was told to mind his own business, Nixon called a white lawyer who was sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans in the hope that the Civil Liberties lawyer would help.  Nixon probably knew that the lawyer would give his assistance since the lawyer was none other than Clifford Durr, Rosa Parks employer and benefactor. 

Parks' Arrest May Have Been Part of the Plan All Along

Professor Jo Ann Robinson that night pushed for a one day bus boycott on the following Monday to protest the arrest of Parks.  She persuaded her students to distribute flyers on Friday announcing the boycott  all over town.   A group of ministers and Civil Rights leaders met to discuss the boycott but the meeting quickly fell apart and many attendees left.  Those who remained decided to spread the word of the planned boycott through word of mouth and from the pulpit.  Initially, it was thought that the boycott would be a one-day affair but they decided to meet again on Monday night to determine the effectiveness of the protest and to determine what their next move would be.  So, on this date in 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.  Dr. Martin Luther King, who by that time had succeeded Vernon Johns as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, determined that a 60% participation in the boycott by African-Americans would be considered a success.  To his surprise and that of others, the busses on Monday that  rolled by his house were nearly empty.  King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom that it was a miracle and that “The once dormant and quiescent Negro community was now fully awake.”  Many leaders wanted to end the boycott and declare victory but Nixon addressed the crowd at the Monday night gathering quite forcefully.  The vote was unanimous to continue the strike. 

There Were Many Players in the Montgomery Bus Boycott

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t clean.  There was violence and bogus arrests.  Edgar Nixon’s home was bombed, dozens of Blacks were arrested under on old city ordinance that prohibited boycotts.  Blacks who rode the bus suffered threats of violence and violence from other African-Americans.  But, on November 13, 1956 the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that struck down the desegregation laws of the Montgomery Alabama bus system and on December 21, 1956, African-Americans in Montgomery, Alabama returned to the city busses.  While the Supreme Court ruling actually stemmed from Colvin’s arrest,  the story of Rosa Parks was born and soon hers would be elevated to mythical levels and while the myth perpetrated in popular culture got the end correct, the created perceptions leave the uninitiated to believe the story was something that it was not.  The truth is that the story surrounding Rosa Parks revolved around the NAACP, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Women’s Political Council and the Voters League and the principals were all connected through these organizations.  It’s pretty clear  that the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the story of Rosa Parks was largely orchestrated and not a case of a simple woman refusing to give up her seat on a bus.   Nevertheless, I suppose the outcome is all that really matters.

Snowfall through 8pm 12.4.10

Louisville Weather Bottom Line:  It would appear that I was pretty prophetic.  Over in Frankfort, snow totals ran over 4 inches while around Louisville it was more like 1-2 inches and in Southern Indiana it was more like 1 inch.  Now comes the cold, which will be the story for the rest of the week.  We may not get above 40 until the end of the week with wind chills wreaking havoc through Sunday.  By next weekend, we could be talking snow again because the pattern will be generally the same and another system should be diving down from the northwest.

1st Thanksgiving Had No Pilgrims and Was More Famine than Feast
December 4, 2010

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

The Bird Was Safe On The First Thanksgiving

FDR Wanted Everyone to Cut the Turkey A Week Earlier Than Abe Proposed

On This Date in History:  Thanksgiving has come and gone and Black Friday is in the record books.  I”m not sure how the day after Thanksgiving has turned into such a big deal.  I suppose that its been coming for some time.  Previously, I had outlined the genesis of Thanksgiving and related how President Franklin Roosevelt had once tried to move Turkey Day to a week earlier in an attempt to add an extra week to the holiday shopping season.  Sorta a disguised depression era stimulus plan. It didn’t work and the experiment was scrapped after one year.  I’m not sure what is taught now, but when I was a kid, we were taught in school about how the Indians hooked up with the Pilgrims near Plymouth Rock to have a big feast in 1621.  Today, we sit around stuffing ourselves with Turkey (not the vegetarian Snow White) and watch football games with our eyes closed and belts loosened.   Trouble is, the Puritans on the Mayflower didn’t call themselves Pilgrims; they referred to themselves as “Saints” which seems a bit presumptuous considering not too many years down the road they were burning “witches” at the stake.  The other thing is that the real first Thanksgiving was on this date in 1620 and it was in Virginia.

1st Colonists in Jamestown

The first permanent English settlement in the New World was Jamestown in 1607 in the Virginia Colony and it wasn’t doing too well. The settlers didn’t know what they were doing and the winters were harsh…remember this was during the mini-ice age. Anyway, by the spring of 1610, the colonists were coming off a tough winter and only 60 of the original 409 were left. Sounds like a good time for prayers to me! And that’s what they did and when help arrived in the form of a ship with food and supplies from mother England, they gave thanks with a prayer service. I guess they weren’t a sentamental lot because they never did anything to commemorate the event.

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Fast Not Feast On 1st Thanksgiving

Two other groups came to Virginia. They were supposed to arrive in Virginia but one(the Mayflower) ended up in Plymouth in 1620. The other (the Margaret) made it to Virginia on December 4, 1619 and their charter read “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival…in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” On December 4, 1620 they commemorated their first year in the colony, not with a feast, but instead they did the opposite and fasted as they prayed. Guess we got that part wrong too. The colonists who landed at what they called Berkeley Hundred didn’t get a chance to mark their second anniversary…some were all killed by Indians and the rest retreated to Jamestown. Maybe they were upset that they weren’t invited to the First Thanksgiving.

ETA Thinks You May Need a Snow Shovel

GFS Thinks It Will Just Be a Pretty Weekend

Weather Bottom Line:  We have another pretty good shot at some snow and this time it will probably be more substantial than what we got on Thanksgiving night.  The long wave pattern is such that there is a dominant and persistent trof in the Eastern half of the US.  The reason why its persistent is because there is a big fat high, or ridge, in the middle of the Atlantic.  There is also a big trof on the front side of that ridge.  That forms a pattern that looks like the greek letter Omega, which is why its called an Omega Block.  Typically,  the Omega pattern is one that puts the breaks on progressive change in the long wave pattern; hence the name Omega “block.”    So, England has been getting slammed with big time snow along with much of the rest of western Europe.  And on this side of the pond, there is the persistent trof with the storm track running from the northern plains throgh the Ohio Valley to the Carolina Mountains.  So, we have another strong shortwave zipping down the storm track through the area.  We have some moisture to work with too.  The heaviest snow will be to the left of the core of that shortwave or “upper low.”  It will be impossible to forecast exactly who gets the biggest snow until about 12 hours before its arrival.  The ETA advertises some 4-5 inches for our area.  The GFS has the track about 50 miles farther east or northeast and so it only has about 1-2 inches.  Take your pick.  My guess is that both will be true for the area, but not for everyone in the area with folks over toward Frankfort having a better chance of 4 inches than the people in Lanesville, Indiana.  After that, the cold air will spill in behind and it will remain chilly for the forseeable future until the Omega Block decides to move.