This Is Why We Celebrate Pride Month In June

I have strongly supported the Pride Flag flying above the Wisconsin Capitol and efforts made through our schools to allow gay and lesbian students to know they are not alone in their walk to adulthood.  What we do in large urban areas does resonate in the rural and quiet communities dotted across the state. Such actions continue to matter as the perpetually angry segment of the conservative base has ratcheted up their rhetoric and awful behavior against the gay and trans community.  The most public display of their juvenile outrage occurred against Target, where store merchandise for transgender shoppers was littered about, and then like a cat who brings a dead mouse to the front door for praise, they took to social media to show off their talent at mayhem. Needless to say, the gay and trans community has every reason to hoist a flag this month, take to the streets in parades, and speak to the truth that our nation again needs to hear.

This spring, I have been reading about the life and times of the first national security advisor to counsel a president.  Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle deals with Robert Cutler, a multi-faceted, learned, articulate, and determined man who saw a need for reorganizing how a president amassed information concerning international affairs so as to better shape policy.  Oh, yes, he was also gay. And living a secret life that President Dwight Eisenhower and the madness of the McCarthy era could never come to learn about. We come to discover in the pages Cutler was a banker, a poet, a cross-dresser who loved the female roles in amateur theatrical productions, and a very closeted gay man at the center of a gay White House love triangle. Cutler becomes deeply infatuated with Tilghman “Skip” Koons, a man described as highly intelligent and a gorgeous 27-year-old Russian speaker who Cutler recruited for the National Security Council staff.

President Eisenhower and Robert Cutler

When reading and learning about history it is vital to step into the shoes and time when the events occur.  While that has always been my firm belief, I readily admit to shaking the book and wondering how Cutler did not rebel in some way to underscore the madness of a policy that excluded gay people from federal employment.  In fact, Cutler worked doggedly to place into effect a President Truman-era order that, due to time constraints in the waning days of Harry’s term, would not be implemented until 1953. The absurdity of the mindset that gay people were a threat to national security and that ‘normal people did not associate with them’ is one of the chapters of our collective past that we need to recall as we speak out as to why we celebrate Pride Month. 

Long-time readers of this blog might recall my writing about the example of bipartisanship being employed by Senator Arthur Vandenberg when Harry Truman becomes president following the death of President Roosevelt. Vandenberg, a staunch Republican wrote to Truman saying “Good luck and God bless you. Let me help you whenever I can. America marches on.”  The two men, both vocal and determined from opposite ends of the political spectrum, bonded and shaped the international policy of the nation following World War II. We know that gay people are in every family, and that was the case with the Vandenbergs, as Shinkle writes with an example of the destructive nature of homophobia.

Arthur Vandenberg Jr.

The high cost to the lives of many gay men due to Executive Order 10450, which Cutler aided in implementing, is clear to see from the data presented in the book.

Being closeted and not able to live authentically has no place in our society, and we must not allow the loudest ones on the far right to do more than shout about their bigotry and hatred. The desire by some conservatives to now open old wounds and inflict outdated and repressive ideas upon society must be utterly rejected. The reason I write that line is due to the way Cutler was forced to live if he wanted to shape policy and use his abundant skills for the nation. It hurts to learn in the book that Cutler presented Skip with a 163,000-word journal about their relationship. Their families and friends and all of Washington should have been able to participate in the joy of that relationship and friendship as it was taking place.

We celebrate Pride Month with full recognition from whence we came. The struggles and fights that had to be waged so we can live our lives authentically are what we recall this month. At the same moment, we know that never again will we take a step backward. So, lift the Pride Flag, and as it is hoisted high recall those who never had the chance to do so. That, sadly, is very much a part of the story, too.

Chronic School Absenteeism In Madison Solved By Parenting

This month Madison schools released data to show that about one out of every seven Madison School District middle and high school students is considered at risk of not graduating from high school.  What the district left unsaid is that the cost of this failure in education will place a strain on society and taxpayers for decades to come. I could have used almost any large school district in the nation to show that chronic absenteeism is a problem and there need to be corrective measures taken.  While solutions seem hard to implement, we know the source of the issue starts in the home.

In Madison, higher rates of chronic absenteeism are largely driving the increase, as about 98% of the district’s 2,231 at-risk students have been deemed “habitually truant,” defined as missing more than 10% of days in an academic year. The number of students considered habitually truant during the 2021-22 school year more than tripled from the year before.

While I am not a parent, it goes without saying that once one carries that title, the time for excuses and rationalizations about why a child does not attend school is over.  There is only one side to the argument for a parent to be on, which is with the teachers and school administrators requiring that a youngster is in their seat and ready to learn.  I know some will argue that is easy for a non-parent to say or write.  But taxpayers do have a right to register their thoughts about schools they fund and the resulting issues from those in society who do not fully avail themselves of the free education offered.

The issue of children being absent from the classroom came to mind while reading this weekend about Robert Harlan.  He was a famous and influential Black man, who The New York World in about 1870 compared at the time as second only to Frederick Douglass. Historians place him as the once-enslaved half-brother to famed Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan.

It was what Robert said in a speech celebrating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment that stands out not only in the context of his time but our ours, too.  Words that are not in any way limited to the color of one’s skin or a region of the country one calls home. Words which should land at the door of every parent.

Here is the supreme duty of our generation.  Let us resolve that come what may, though it be biting poverty, coarse garments, plain food, and humble shelter, our children shall receive the full measure of education that our capacity can admit of.

Education is the greatest factor in the makeup of an individual and the ability for a full and rewarding life. When one looks at the real pitfalls to learning in places like Kyiv or for girls in Afghanistan, we then can measure the lack of actual obstacles to getting any child living in Madison into a classroom.  That does not mean some will still not offer excuses for continued absences.  While the majority of those living in our city willingly and understandably pay the taxes for our schools we only ask all parents to more fully take seriously their role in the education process for their children.  Outside of illness, there is no reasonable explanation for chronic absenteeism. Enough excuses, let’s get on with learning.

King Charles III and The Front Pages Of History

History was made in spectacular fashion in London on Saturday, with newspapers worldwide reporting the news in their Sunday editions.

Why My Dad, Royce Humphrey, Did Not Vote In 1944 Presidential Election

I am not able to pick up a book alongside the bed and read ‘a few pages and fall asleep’.  I often hear people say they often do such quick reading before being lulled into slumber, but last night again demonstrates why that never works for me.  I was reading the next chapter of Robert Cutler’s life, as told in Ike’s Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle and instead of slowing down my thought process it reversed my plans to end the day. It was not long before the book had me doing a bit of research on my iPad. The story told was one I had not known before, and since it dealt with members of the military voting in WWII, a war where my Dad served in the Pacific Theater, I was most interested to learn more.

There was a desire among some pols leading up to 1944, as the war raged and President Franklin Roosevelt sought a fourth unprecedented term in the White House, for soldiers overseas to be able to cast a ballot.  With roughly 10 million soldiers deployed the outcome of races from the Senate to the Oval Office could be decided by these offshore ballots. As such, two Democratic Senators, Scott Lucas of Illinois and Teddy Green of Rhode Island introduced a bill to have ballots sent to the ones fighting in the war.  That was when the fireworks started as Southern Democrats were livid thinking Black voters could bypass the poll tax and cast a ballot, and then they would surely wish to keep voting once they returned to the Deep South upon leaving the military. Northern Republicans feared that the military vote would further aid in the re-election of FDR.

While elections are in the hands of each state, Cutler who served in the War Department as the planning coordinator for this voting concept and then as executive director once the War Ballot Commission was authorized by Congress, proved in hearings why a federal bill was needed.  Here is one paragraph dealing with the pitfalls of absentee voting and how soldiers from Springfield, Illinois would be unable to vote in 1944 unless a new law was passed. 

The bill that passed after twists and turns due to the most unreasonable of political maneuvers was weak and only partly functioned. It required that the home state of the soldier had to first approve the use of the federal ballot.  Of the 48 states, only 20 of them approved the federal ballot. But which ones, I asked silently to the author, thinking how informative it would have been to include one more sentence with those states listed.

It took me a mite longer online than I had wished to find the listing. The states with federal ballots sent abroad were CA, CT, FL, GA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NE, NH, NJ, NC, OK, OR, RI, TX, UT, VT, and WA. Dad, being a Wisconsin ‘boy’, did not get to vote. One does have to wonder if it seemed odd for some soldiers to have a ballot for president in 1944 while buddies alongside the one voting did not. Dad did not often talk of the war itself, as the military aspect of the fighting was not a topic he engaged in with our family. But he often spoke of the larger context of WWII, and I know this would be one matter he either would have known something about or have thought interesting to learn.

As to what works best for falling asleep I do a crossword puzzle. Repose, one’s own time, seven letters…..

Immigration Rhetoric Needs To Be Tempered With Policy And Understanding Our History

With all the news about the spring offensive of brave and determined Ukrainian soldiers striking back at Russian aggressors, the almost daily occurrences of innocent people being shot and killed for no reason other than a gun was in easy reach of being fired, and the attempted hostage-taking by Republicans over the debt ceiling it might seem near impossible to add another top-of-the-fold story to the mix.  Nonetheless, immigrants at the southern border are making its usual series of articles and talking points across the nation.

There is merit to some of the news about the border, as the scheduled court-ordered lifting of Title 42, a public health rule issued during the pandemic that gives U.S. officials unusual powers to quickly expel migrants who cross the border without permission is soon to occur. But as is usual when this topic is elevated comes the partisan rage about immigration that also connects too easily with racism.  At a time when Wisconsin Republicans say the worker shortage is so dire, they need to pass legislation so fourteen-year-olds can serve patrons their drinks, alerts us all to the need for more people desiring to live and make wages in the nation. (I trust some creative editorial cartoonist is drawing a kid in northern Wisconsin studying the whiskey rebellion on the bar counter as he is getting ready to serve table seven their cocktails.) There is clearly a need in every sector of our economy that is screaming out for workers on the one hand as there are clearly many people who wish to reside and work in our nation at the border on the other. Of course, a nation must have control of its borders but we also must have a comprehensive immigration policy passed by Congress to react to both ends of the issue.

For the record, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed in the Senate on May 25, 2006, with a 62-36 vote. (I very much approved of the measure.) The bill included provisions to strengthen border security with fencing, vehicle barriers, surveillance technology, and more personnel; a new temporary worker visa category; and a path to legal status for immigrants in the country illegally if they met specific criteria.  Then-President George W. Bush commended the Senate “for passing bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform” and said he looked forward to working with both chambers.

But the bill was never taken up by the House.

Then in 2013, a bill backed by Democrats and 14 Republicans, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate on a 68-32 vote on June 27, 2013. Another measure many found grounded in the policy principles that our nation needed to strive at implementing.

It rotted in the GOP House. 

The Dreamers have been held hostage to partisan politics so long that they will likely have grandkids before our nation can find a will to resolve the issue. Though our nation is awash in political dysfunction which results in not passing legislation dealing with immigration the partisan anger is high and too often just mean and cruel. Sometimes, as we know, cruelty itself is the reason for such outbursts. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this week labeled the dead family from a mass shooting as “illegal immigrants” and in so doing removed any sense of humanity from the horror. On display was the foghorn of racism that comes too easily to our politics.

One of the best columns I read about immigration in many months landed in newspapers across the nation a couple weeks ago. I clipped James Rosen’s words from my local daily paper and post a section of it below. Yes, we have issues at the border requiring a national policy response, but the vitriol and outright racism that often lands on those who simply wish to make for a better life with a job and some hope on their shoulders must be called out. One way to address the current headlines is to shake hands with our past.

There was a “border crisis” in the 1840s when the Irish flooded into the country in huge numbers; they made up half of all immigrants. Yet they would come to dominate politics in Boston, New York and other cities while seeing one of their own elected as president in 1960.

There was a “border crisis” in the 1850s when waves of Chinese immigrants arrived, drawn by the California gold rush and fleeing economic turmoil at home. Yet they almost single-handedly built the first transcontinental railroad and opened many popular businesses.

There was a “border crisis” in the early 1900s when millions of Jews came to escape pogroms and other persecutions in Eastern Europe. Yet they would come to dominate fields from filmmaking to academia, earning a volatile mix of admiration and contempt in their new homeland.

There was a border crisis in the 1940s when Japanese immigrants were rounded up and held in internment camps during World War II. Yet today, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Suburu employ tens of thousands of Americans at factories in eight states; hundreds of thousands more work for firms that supply them or sell their cars.

There was a “border crisis” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks when FBI agents began to question the large Arab community in Dearborn, Michigan, and question Muslim immigrants elsewhere. Yet, Arab Americans today head major universities and make major contributions in every field, from science and computer engineering to business, journalism, entertainment and politics. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco to a Syrian father … and a German-American mother.

The original “border crisis” started long before Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The immigrants who arrived in the early 1600s went on to found a great nation after slaughtering the Native Americans who preceded them, a tragic tale of conquest that illustrates the morally murky precept, famously repurposed by Winston Churchill, “History is written by the victors.”

Teachers Should Not Be Constrained, Classrooms Should Be Able To Dialogue About Abraham Lincoln And Joshua Speed Relationship

Upon finishing Courting Mr. Lincoln my first thought was how great writers seemingly allow words to flow effortlessly.  The amazing work by Louis Bayard combined historical facts with an author’s elaboration using dialogue and moods to convey larger topics for exploration. The second thought I had was this book, so beautifully written and constructed, sadly will not be found in school libraries where book banning runs wild.

Central to the story as Mary Todd enters the world of Springfield in 1839 and meets Abraham Lincoln, is the tight friendship and deeply personal relationship between Joshua Speed and Lincoln. Lincoln shared a bed with Speed for four years over a general store that the latter owned.  While the sharing of such close quarters by men was not uncommon at the time, it is the narrower story of bonds and shared closeness between the two that has placed the question of what their actual relationship was into the minds of historians and writers for many decades.   

Historians have tried to grapple with understanding Lincoln in more books written about him than any other president. The books range from his efforts being portrayed as highly patriotic and grounded in the words of the Founding Fathers to the wildly outlandish that try to paint him as a dictator. Over 15,000 titles have been published, all in an effort to better define and dissect what many consider (including myself) the most important leader this nation had in the White House. Bayard stepped into this arena and added context to the possible (and a growing number of researchers think probable) homosexual relationship between Lincoln and Speed.  Though we will never know with absolute proof through evidence that a relationship occurred, this discussion allows students insight into social structures that mandated secrecy at the time over such relationships.  Students are left to beg the question that if Lincoln had committed himself to Speed, and given the mores of the era meaning he would not have been elected president, what might have happened with the Union and the issue of slavery?  Contrasting that to 2020 when Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay married man, sought his party’s nomination is exactly the role of a history student studying the patterns and forces that shape(d) our nation.

Given how the rhetoric in our nation about teaching Black history or gay history or tackling anything that might make certain parents upset in some regions of the nation, the idea of broaching the topic of Lincoln with a homosexual side to his life surely seems an uphill trek. If merely suspecting Lincoln to have a male love interest riles feathers, pray tell, how does that same school teach Oscar Wilde in literature class?!

My deep respect for Lincoln started in my school years when learning his determination to show the world that the United States’ brave attempt at democracy must not fail, as it would then allow despots to think people could not rule themselves successfully. My high school library had a copy of Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln. (I recall the larger book’s wonderful black and white drawings depicting places and people as the story unwinds.)  It was there that I first read any hint and in only a few sparse words, of Lincoln’s potentially gay feelings. Sandburg had studied the letters and wrote of Lincoln and Speed having “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets”. 

I had questions so I turned to, Marge Glad, my history teacher, a woman who so positively impacted my life I went back as a young adult to thank her for what she did in her classroom.  There was no internet to search (as this was 1977) or a huge collection of other books in a rural community so I sought a teacher for a further explanation.  She told me that lavender was a way (especially in Britain) for how gay people would be referred to so as not to seem ‘vulgar’ in society when speaking of the topic.  I recall she used the word pregnancy as another example of what was not used in ‘polite company’ in times past. I never once considered such a discussion with a teacher to be out-of-bounds or anything other than just another day at school. It was rather just another educational experience.

The points I made are two-fold in this post.  First, a school library should have books that promote learning and bring forth ideas that foster more research along with discussions. Banning books is meant to constrain or undermine learning, which is simply unacceptable.  Secondly, teachers must have the ability to educate and speak openly and factually about a wide array of topics with their students. Schools must be a place where ideas are able to be explored and questioned. In so doing a new generation of minds with broadened perspectives will become the sturdy adults this nation requires.

Gregory Humphrey History Minute: One Inkwell

I love history, and always wanted to teach a high school class. As such, here is one story that many do not know, but how grand it is to learn. From Dred Scott to Justice John Marshall Harlan’s famed dissent on behalf of the rights of Black Americans comes the story of an inkwell and the power of hope and inspiration. (That is my mom in the pictures on the wall.)

Most Dangerous Political Assassination In American History

This is an outstanding interview of Dark Horse by Kenneth Ackerman, a book I read many years ago, which then prompted me to locate both the site of President James Garfield’s shooting in D.C. and also the location of the jail that housed the killer, Charles Guiteau, when James and I visited our nation’s capital. (The latter being rather close to our Airbnb.) Today, as the snow started to fall (yikes!) I curled up to hear this author and lawyer–I mention the latter as his diction and crisp refined presentation make this hour thoroughly enjoyable. He ventures forth about the workings of national political conventions in 1880, the workings of the Senate, and how political opponents caught a former senator in the naked embrace of his lover. And, of course, if you know this story of how the doctors in their naivete killed Garfield, further insight into that part of this dreadful chapter in our national story, too. Give this video three minutes and you will be hooked…and then read the book—one I have given as gifts over the years to both book lovers and history buffs.

There is no way to load within a WordPress post a Booknotes video (that I am aware of and if you know how that can be achieved please alert me) but I did clip a one-minute segment that underscores why this assassination was so remarkable, as it was unlike any other in American history. If you want to hear why this is so, please click here.