Sometimes it seems as though weeks go by without nary an event worth introducing into conversation. And then sometimes news–and not merely news, but huge historical events–come rolling in like thunder. One such period occurred during the last week in June. On Monday the 22nd, responding to the murder days before of nine people who were worshipping in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a confederate fanboy Dylann Roof, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” she said. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”This in turn inspired further rollbacks: the state of Alabama pulled down the rebel flag, the city of Memphis voted to relocate the tomb of the racist terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest, the states of Maryland and Virginia stopped issuing license plates with the rebel flag on it, and the state of Kentucky removed a statue of native son Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the capitol. Then, on Thursday,  the Florida Supreme Court threw out five egregiously drawn election districts, hopefully beginning the process of rolling back on systematic gerrymandering. Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court for a second time approved Obamacare, refusing to chase some sloppy writing as an excuse to undermine the legislative process. The next day, bu a 5-4 margin, the Court legalized gay marriage across the country, calling it a fundamental right. “No union is more profound than marriage,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, `for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family, In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. Their hope,” Kennedy is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

“Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history,” said Senator Ted Cruz.  I say hoorah.


100_0884Beautiful Harper’s Ferry, sitting at he confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at the bottom of the steep trio of Loudon, Bolivar and Maryland Heights, once had one of only two federal arsenals in the United States, which is why John Brown decided to begin his slave uprising there. Less than two years later, his action spawned secession and the Civil War. Above, the Conjoined Potomac. Immediately below left, a marker designating where Brown made his stand; right, in Harper’s Ferry less than ten minutes, and already they’ve dedicated a marker to her!
Immediately below: looking up into town; Far below: looking across to Maryland Heights.


I didn’t want to write about Donald Trump anymore, but he is making me do it.

Today, President Obama published on the White House website a long-form version of his birth certificate. This “certificate” is a longer, more complete document than the “certification” that his campaign released in 2008, which is what a citizen of Hawaii typically receives when he requests documents of birth. The publication of this document should stop all discussions of Obama’s citizenship once and for all.

Moments after the president released the document, Trump took credit for its release. Saying that he was “very proud of being able to accomplish something no one else was able to accomplish”, Trump said, “I’m taking great credit and you have to ask the president, ‘why didn’t he do this a long time ago? Why didn’t he do it a long time ago?’ When Hillary Clinton was asking, when everybody was asking, why didn’t he do it? It’s shocking. It’s shocking.”

Now, just for the record, on April 15th, in this blog, I said “[Trump] will retract this birther nonsense, Basically, he won’t want to be scraping this shit off the bottom of his shoe for the rest of his life, so he will claim to have made an open-minded investigation of the birther claims, and will proudly put his imprimatur on Obama’s citizenship. He will move from skeptic to validator.” I think that was pretty close.

Now Trump has upped the ante, and has begun to question Obama’s qualifications for being admitted to Columbia University. “I heard he was a terrible student,” he said, in part, rolling the point back and forth. “How does a bad student get into Columbia University and then Harvard Law?” He is now demanding that Obama release his transcripts.

The insinuation is clear: Obama was undeservedly admitted into Columbia because he is black. Trump may deny that this is his implication, but he cannot run from it.

Trump has had a glorious spring, proving to NBC that he is a world-caliber publicity machine who can manipulate the world’s media merely by whispering the word “candidacy.” On that basis, he has increased the viewership and rating for his cheesy TV show, and more deeply ingratiated himself into NBC’s plans. No doubt he has also increased the value of his name, which, by attaching it to condos and golf courses, is the source of much of his wealth. But Trump is now one small step away from destroying all that. Whether Obama had poor grades before he was admitted into Columbia or not is entirely immaterial; he has proven his legitimacy, indeed, to the point that his success now would legitimate whatever affirmative action program nurtured him. We are not talking about an academic underachiever who got a sheepskin from Basketball State on the strength of his jump shot. We are talking about a man who got himself elected president of the United States.

This is a thinly disguised shout of “Nigger;” perhaps not even disguised at all.

We are one short step away from the moment when America recoils in disgust from these despicable tactics.

We await only the moment when Joseph Welch turns to Senator McCarthy and says “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”


On Day Two I was immersed in Williamsburg, and I continued to have a great time. In the morning, we attended a performance by some of Williamsburg’s historic character interpreters, most of whom were playing slaves in the Colonial Era. The scenarios did an excellent job bringing to life the conflicts and pressures experienced by people of color in those terrible circumstances. The actors who play these characters do an impressive job; not only do they have “play” characters, and their words, deeds, and feelings, but they have “inhabit” the characters, a kind of performance that requires considerable study of the personalities and the era, along with the nimbleness to extemporize when spoken to by visitors. A Q&A session followed the performance, and it was striking to hear the actors speak of the particular challenges posed by having to play a slave all day.

At a luncheon in the afternoon, we heard a talk by Professor Alan Brinkley of Columbia University on the question How Do Presidents Succeed-and Fail? Brinkley focused on the differences between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I guess Brinkley picked a topic suitable for Presidents’ Day weekend, but I would have preferred to have heard an address closer to the theme of the weekend. I am happy to say, however, that I met some wonderful people at lunch, including four school teachers from Salt Lake City who are crazy about Williamsburg (three of them had visited at least three times.) They love the atmosphere and they love history (I’m with them.) I also very lucky to have as a seat mate Christy Coleman, who is president of American Civil War Museum, which is located at the historic Tredegar Foundry in Richmond. I had never heard of this place (if I had, I probably would have checked it out instead of the Museum of the Confederacy), which uses historic interpreters and exhibitions to tell the story of the Civil War from Union, Confederate and African American perspectives. I really enjoyed talking to Ms. Coleman, who began her career as a historic interpreter at WIlliamsburg; I would have liked to have heard more about her exciting work.

After lunch, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Colin Campbell, the president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, who spoke about the organization’s efforts to bring history to life and to reveal the issues and conflicts that make studying it so exciting. “You can’t just have a guide take a group of tourists into a historic building and point out the wall paper anymore,” he said. “Those days are gone forever. We try to present stories here–stories that full of drama, and that are challenging, and that have the incomparable benefit of being real.” One can certainly appreciate the hard work and sheer intelligence that it takes to design programs that reach people of all ages and widely different interest levels, and that also take on topics that are sensitive, if not outright caustic. “Do I get mail?” Mr. Campbell chuckled. “Yes, but the content is not negotiable. We present what in our judgment is good history, not politically correct history.”

The evening concluded with a very entertaining musical performance by an impressively accomplished and very witty trio that calls themselves The Virginia Company. Their program, called “To Washington’s Health,” consisted of drinking songs, dances, reels, ballads and other tunes that would have been known to the Father of Our Country (who apparently was not only first in peace and war, but often first onto the dance floor.) Dinner took place at an excellent restaurant called The Blue Talon, where I was once again able to thank Samantha Lacher and Erin Curtis of the Missy Farren & Associates Public Relations Agency, who helped arrange my activities. I enjoyed meeting them, and am very grateful for all their congenial assistance.