Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Walter Plecker: genocidal white supremacist, ‘Undesirables born amongst us’

Virginia’s Indian tribes have faced numerous obstacles in their decades-old quest for federal recognition. But one person has long stood in their way — and he’s been dead for 68 years.
Walter Plecker — a physician, eugenicist and avowed white supremacist — ran Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics with single-minded resolve over 34 years in the first half of the 20th century.
Though he died in 1947, Plecker’s shadow still lingers over the state, a vestige of a vicious era when racist practices were an integral part of government policy and Virginia officials ruthlessly enforced laws created to protect what they considered a master white race.
For Virginia’s Indians, the policies championed by Plecker threatened their very existence, nearly wiping out the tribes who greeted the country’s first English settlers and who claim Pocahontas as an ancestor. This month, the legacy of those laws could again help sabotage an effort by the Pamunkey people to become the state’s first federally recognized tribe.
Obsessed with the idea of white superiority, Plecker championed legislation that would codify the idea that people with one drop of “Negro” blood could not be classified as white. His efforts led the Virginia legislature to pass the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, a law that criminalized interracial marriage and also required that every birth in the state be recorded by race with the only options being “White” and “Colored.”
Plecker was proud of the law and his role in creating it. It was, he said, “the most perfect expression of the white ideal, and the most important eugenical effort that has been made in 4,000 years.”
The act didn’t just make blacks in Virginia second-class citizens — it also erased any acknowledgment of Indians, whom Plecker claimed no longer truly existed in the commonwealth. With a stroke of a pen, Virginia was on a path to eliminating the identity of the Pamunkey, the Mattaponi, the Chickahominy, the Monacan, the Rappahannock, the Nansemond and the rest of Virginia’s tribes.
Entering the Pamunkey reservation is a sign announcing the tribe. The tribe is the smallest and oldest documented tribe in Virginia. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post)
The tribal center for the Chickahominy tribe is located deep in the countryside of rural Virginia not far from the small town of Providence Forge. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post)
“He told us we had no right to exist as people,” said Powhatan Red Cloud-Owen, a Vietnam veteran who belongs to the 850-member Chickahominy tribe. “He tried to destroy a people like Hitler did. It was a genocide inside of this great country of ours.”
‘It was devastating’
Plecker. For Virginia Indians, the name is an expletive.
“I would call him the villain in our sacred story,” says Karenne Wood, 55, a member of the Monacan, the largest of the Virginia tribes with more than 2,000 members. “As soon as you raise his name, people make bad faces.”
Standing in the graveyard adjacent to the Chickahominy Tribal Center, Steve Adkins, the 69-year-old chief of the tribe in Providence Forge, about 20 miles southeast of Richmond, says he is pained by what his people endured as a result of the Racial Integrity Act.

“It forbade giving your child an Indian name,”Adkins says. “And it caused people like my mom and dad to have to go to Washington, D.C., to be married as Indians.”
Others simply left Virginia rather than stay where they could no longer call themselves Indians.
“It caused separations of families,” Adkins says. “It was devastating.”
The devastation lasted decades. Plecker directed registrars around the state to change birth certificates, to cross out Indian and write in “Colored.” He had Indian children removed from white schools and Indian patients removed from white hospitals. He pushed back against Native Americans who tried to maintain their tribal identity, and he rejected federal efforts to acknowledge the existence of Indians in the state.
“Plecker saw Indian identity as dangerous, because he believed it would simply be used as a way station by people who ultimately just wanted to be classified as white,” says Mikaela Adams, assistant professor of Native American history at the University of Mississippi. “Of course, there were many reasons that white classification in 20th century Virginia was extremely beneficial. It meant access to better schools, homes. It meant, essentially, freedom.”
Instead, Indians lost freedoms and very nearly lost their identity. That was Plecker’s goal, as he explained in a 1943 letter that he addressed to “Local Registrars, Clerks, Legislators, and others responsible for, and interested in, the prevention of racial intermixture.”
“Public records in the office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and in the State Library, indicate that there does not exist today a descendant of the Virginia ancestors claiming to be an Indian who is unmixed with negro blood,” he wrote. In other words, Virginia was rid of Indians.

Virginia would eventually repudiate the Racial Integrity Act. The law was effectively canceled out in 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an interracial Virginia couple’s right to marry in Loving v. Virginia. And in 2002, then-Gov. Mark Warner (D) officially apologized for the commonwealth’s role. But some of the damage has been irreparable.
“Plecker participated in an official disappearance of these tribes,” says Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “So he might be discredited and the official policy might be to apologize for him, but since the tribes haven’t been recognized, he still has accomplished something that has not been reversed. He’s still winning.”
‘Undesirables born amongst us’
Walter Ashby Plecker was born into a prosperous slave-owning Virginia family on April 2, 1861, just 10 days before the onset of the Civil War. His father joined the Confederate Army in the South’s fight to preserve slavery.
After graduating in 1880 from Hoover Military Academy in Staunton, Va., Plecker attended the University of Maryland Medical School where he earned his medical degree in 1885. He worked as a public health doctor in Virginia and Alabama before being appointed registrar of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics in 1912. The seemingly functionary title was misleading. It was in that office that Plecker would implement some of the most unapologetically racist government policies of the past century.
At the time, eugenics, a pseudo-scientific philosophy espousing racial purity and white genetic superiority, was gaining favor in parts of the United States, not just as a privately held view, but as a matter of public policy. Virginia was a stronghold of this nascent eugenicist movement.
Plecker was an early member of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, an organization founded in Richmond by two white supremacists that pushed for laws that forbid interracial marriage and opposed immigration by anyone other than Northern European whites.
For Plecker, who married but had no children, there was nothing lower than a mixed-race child. “The worst forms of undesirables born amongst us are those whose parents are of different races,” he said.
The Racial Integrity Act was just one pillar in the legislative legacy that Plecker and the eugenicists created. They also lobbied for the Eugenical Sterilization Act that was signed into law in 1924. That allowed the state to sterilize individuals “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy.” That law was not repealed until 1974. In February, the Virginia General Assembly agreed to compensate those who were forcibly sterilized, paying each $25,000.

Plecker’s impact was also felt well beyond Virginia. He lobbied the Census Bureau beginning in 1930 to stop using the category “mulatto” to count mixed-race citizens. Indicating that you were of more than one race was not allowed until the 2000 census.

Pamunkey Chief Kevin Brown goes over documents collected from England being used to prove the existence of the tribe to federal officials in Washington. (Timothy C. Wright/For The Washington Post)
Walter Plecker sent this letter in December 1943 to reinforce his views and the laws he drafted. Plecker’s policies pressured state agencies to reclassify most citizens claiming Indian identity as colored. (Library of Virginia)
He was obsessed with genealogy and tracing the racial background of everyone in the state. In her book, “Pocahontas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia Through Four Centuries,” Old Dominion University historian Helen Rountree recalls an exchange of letters between Plecker and U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier in 1943. Collier believed that Plecker’s policy regarding Indians was too strict. Plecker countered that his policy was justified because of his extensive research into race records dating back a century.
“Your staff member is probably correct in his surmise that Hitler’s genealogical study of the Jews is not more complete,” Plecker boasted.
Plecker retired in 1946. Despite his outsized role in Virginia’s history, he remains a relatively unknown figure. Though the history of racism and Jim Crow is taught in Virginia’s schools, neither Plecker nor the Racial Integrity Act are mentioned, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
There is perhaps only one story about Plecker that provides Virginia’s Indians some satisfaction. On Aug. 2, 1947, a year after retiring, Plecker stepped into a Richmond street without looking and was hit and killed by a passing vehicle. He was 86.
“That was good for us,” says Adkins, with a wry smile. “He was going strong until the end. He wasn’t stopping.”
Blitz of opposition
There are currently 566 federally recognized Indian tribes, none of which are from Virginia. In order to receive federal recognition, and be eligible for the housing, education and health-care funding that comes with it, Indian tribes need to meet several criteria heavily weighted to historical documentation.
Because Plecker spent almost all of his public life trying to eliminate the recorded existence of Virginia’s Indians, it has made attaining federal recognition all the more difficult for the tribes.

Then-Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell joins the chiefs and members of the Pamunkey and Mattoponi Tribes for the annual Tax Tribute Ceremony at the Executive Mansion in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Michaele White, governor’s photographer)
Andrew Tyler, a member of the Cherokee tribe and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, poses for a photograph during a break in dancing at the Chickahominy Tribal Center near Providence Forge. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post)
The 208-member Pamunkey tribe has chosen to pursue recognition through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a laborious and expensive process that has lasted years. The bureau was expected to rule earlier this year on whether to grant the Pamunkey federal recognition. But at the last minute, following a blitz of opposition, that decision was postponed.
Leading the fight against the Pamunkey bid was casino giant MGM, which is opening a $1.2 billion casino in Princes George’s County next year and does not want competition in Virginia. The Pamunkey have not said whether they would open a casino if they were granted recognition, but MGM isn’t waiting to find out. It teamed up with Stand Up for California, an organization that has fought tribal casinos, to oppose Pamunkey recognition.
In March, Stand Up for California wrote to the Bureau of Indian Affairs saying that some members of the tribe descended not from Indians, but African Americans, and therefore should not be recognized. For Virginia Indian tribes and their supporters, it was galling to hear the same argument that Plecker once made now being repeated to again challenge their identity.
“The whole spectacle of folks ganging up on these tribes, in my view just promoted and funded by the casino industry, is just outrageous,” said Kaine, the senator. “They’re building off the back of a horrific eugenicist to try and make their argument.”
MGM officials rejected that characterization. “We object to any depiction that we are in any way associated with the despicable practice” perpetrated by Plecker, said company spokesman Gordon Absher. “MGM Resorts is a national leader in diversity and inclusion. Insinuations to the contrary cannot be further from the truth.”
Kaine and members of both parties in Virginia’s congressional delegation have long supported passage of the Thomasina E. Jordan bill, which would provide federal recognition through Congress for six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Monacan, Nansemond, Upper Mattaponi and Rappahannock. To help win political support, the six tribes gave up the right to open casinos or other gambling ventures.
Kaine says he is encouraged that the bill passed out of the Senate subcommittee early in this legislative session and is hopeful that it will do the same in the House so that it can eventually be voted on by the entire Congress.
For Steve Adkins, the Chickahominy chief, federal recognition would stamp out all of Plecker’s efforts by making a statement: “We are who we say we are.”

Going home
Powhatan Red Cloud-Owen’s mother, Minnie Adkins, was 25 when the Racial Integrity Act was passed. The idea that she would no longer be considered an Indian in Virginia was so distressing that she and her sister left their tiny hometown and moved to New York. There they took jobs cleaning homes, and Minnie eventually married an Indian from another tribe and settled in Queens. She was proud of being a Chickahominy and would help out at the American Indian Community House, a meeting place for Indians from all over the country who had moved to New York.
Red-Cloud Owen grew up in New York, but he spent his summers in Virginia with his cousins and other members of the tribe. At 15, he moved to Virginia so that he could attend an all-Indian school. He decided to stay for good, but his mother would never return to live in Virginia again. She died in 1974.
Before she died, however, she made a request, Red-Cloud Owen says. She wanted to be buried in the Chickahominy tribal cemetery, next to the tribal center and near the small town where she grew up and knew the name of everyone and every tree. Buried in Virginia. Buried as an Indian.

Joe Heim joined The Post in 1999. He is currently a staff writer for the Metro section's Local Enterprise team. He also writes Just Asking, a weekly Q&A column in the Sunday magazine and is the paper's resident Downton Abbey expert.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The true meaning of Paganism

Cernunnos,"The Horned One" - Paganism

The true meaning of Paganism

Detail of Runestone 181
The Triumph of Civilization
An ancient temple devoted to the god Zeus
The word "paganism" has come to refer to various pre-Christian religions belonging to a number of ancient cultures—those from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Scandinavia, and so on.  It has come to also represent, in some circles, the modern ideology of Wicca and the followers of revived versions of the old practices.  The truth about "paganism", however, is that it is a historically inaccurate phrase in the context of these aforementioned faiths.  Although it is now the accepted term for these religions, it is important to examine where the word truly came from and what it initially meant, allowing for a better, all-inclusive understanding of the world's religious past.
The term "paganism" was revived during the Renaissance when writers were trying to differentiate the old traditions from their contemporary Christian faith.  The term itself stems from the Latin paganus translated loosely along the lines of "country dweller" or "rustic"; thus it was initially a word describing a person of locality rather than a religion.  However, because of its usage in ancient texts, medieval authors mistakenly believed it referenced a religious sect and thereby gave it the corresponding connotation.  In actuality, there was a different word used to describe the "pagans" as they are called today, and that word too stemmed first and foremost from the location of the religious supporters.
According to scholar Peter Brown of Princeton University, "Hellene" was initially utilized in place of "paganism".  "Hellene" was a reference to Ἕλλην (Hellas), the native ancient Greek name for what is now called Greece.  Brown explains that when Christianity started making appearances in the eastern communities, "Hellene" was used to differentiate the non-Christians from the Christians.  Those from Hellas tended to remain faithful to the old religions, but with the strife between Judaism and Christianity beginning, the Jewish faction needed to ensure they were not incorrectly associated with them.  As they were not from Greece, "Hellene" became the perfect title.

An ancient temple devoted to the god Zeus. Credit: MM, Public Domain

In the Latin west, it was more common for the various religions to refer to themselves by their ethnic origins rather than by the gods they worshipped—they simply referred to themselves (in their own language) as Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, etc., simultaneously insinuating their religious factions as well.  This form of labeling was largely due to the fact that the political and religious aspects of life were a unified entity.  Thus, the tradition of ethnic titling appears to have been continued by the early Christians.  As far as ancient sources can tell, it wasn't until the Late Roman Empire that the term "pagan" began to be used instead, as it was an easy way to lump all the non-Christians together in conversation, decrees, etc.   It rose to popularity as a matter of convenience rather than of accuracy and respect.
It is important to note that "paganism" is not intended to differentiate the polytheistic religions from the monotheistic.  The number of gods does not apply to the term because many so-called "pagans" would have not considered it important to differentiate themselves based on the number of gods they worshipped.  Followers of the ancient religions did not necessarily have anything against Christianity based on its preference for a singular deity—many cults within each sect had a primary deity at the center of the religion, beneath which subordinate deities were also worshipped.  "Paganism" as a title was intended only to reference the non-Christians (and the non-Jews), isolating them into one solitary category that could be more easily destroyed and replaced.

The Triumph of Civilization’ by Jacques Reattu (Wikimedia). Many ancient religions were polytheistic and believed in a pantheon of gods. 

This effort of combining all non-Christian religions under one umbrella was, in fact, a clever strategy by the early Christians to remove the "pagan" faiths altogether.  Using the Norse traditions as an example, the Vikings of the early medieval period had no true name for their religious following.  In truth, the word religion would have been an unknown, foreign term to them.  The Nordic tribes preferred the word "customs" as—like the Greeks and Romans—their rituals, beliefs, and traditions were undefined and fluidly interpreted, orally passed down rather than rigidly studied.  There was no all-encompassing word for the belief in the Aesir and Vanir, and the various other beings and deities the ancient Norse worshipped, and there was no written text discussing their practices until the Christian author Snorri Sturluson wrote their mythology down in the 13th century.

Detail of Runestone 181, in Stockholm. Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freyr are represented as three men. Credit: Berig, Wikipedia

According to Gareth Williams in Viking: Life and Legend, what is now considered the Norse religion is actually the "legacy of the Christian missionaries", their textual product a "concentrated target" that is much easier to remove and erase than the amalgamation of gods liberally worshipped.  Consolidating the various Norse—and every other "pagan"—tradition into a simplified faith with recorded rules and codes provided the early Christians with a more straightforward target to remove and replace.
Though the phrase "paganism" is widely used to describe followers of the various ancient religions, it is important to understand from where the term originates and the misconceptions behind its usage.   Too many centuries have passed now—the word "paganism" will continue to label these supporters despite its original meaning.  But it is never too late to be informed of the origins of the term, thereby allowing a better comprehension of the history of the ancient followers.
Featured image: Cernunnos,"The Horned One", ancient god of nature and fertility. (Source)
Brown, Peter. Late Antiquity: a guide to the postclassical world (Harvard University Press: Massachusetts, 1999.) s.v. "Pagan".
Cameron, Alan G. The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford University Press: New York, 2011.)
Davies, Owen (2011). Paganism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press: New York, 2011.)
Robert, P. & Scott, N. A History of Pagan Europe (Barnes & Noble Books: New York, 1995.)
Swain, "Defending Hellenism: Philostratus, in Honour of Apollonius," in Apologetics, p. 173
Williams, Gareth, Peter Penz, and Matthias Wemhoff. Vikings: Life and Legend (Cornell University Press: New York, 2014.)
York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion (New York University Press: New York, 2003.)
By Ryan Stone

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Limiting Intake at Big Run Landfill, Boyd Co KY

Contributor: Citizen Randy Roberson
CATLETTSBURG The Boyd County Fiscal Court took two major steps Tuesday toward limiting trash intake at Big Run Landfill.

First, members unanimously approved hiring Paul Nesbitt of Lexington-based Nesbitt Engineering as a consultant throughout Big Run Landfill’s permit renewal phase in January.
Nesbitt has worked with the court in the past regarding the county’s solid waste management plan. He said attempting to lower the total capacity of a landfill is groundbreaking for local government in Kentucky. Second, members unanimously approved a resolution accepting Nesbitt’s recommendation to lower the landfill’s total capacity by about 60 percent — in other words, cutting out about 18 million tons of trash from its currently permitted intake.
If the court is successful, it will be the first government body in Kentucky to reduce the total capacity of a landfill through this process, and the only way to do it is through an amendment to its solid waste management plan.

Nesbitt provided the court with data he obtained through state government agencies, noting it was not a “complete” set of data.

He said at one time, the landfill was accepting about 2,000 tons of garbage per day based on an average calculated for a six-day work week.
After a “boom” in 2013 and another in 2014, the landfill now accepts about 5,500 tons of trash per day. This figure, he said, was based on the last two quarterly reports from the landfill for 2014.
As of 2008, the landfill is permitted a total site area of 576 acres, with the ability to store trash in 255 acres.

Nesbitt said his justification to the state for implementing his suggested capacity reduction would be based off the 2008 slide, the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection-issued agreed order and other problems that appear to correlate with increased intake at the site.
“You can see that there’s a correlation when you look at the tonnage and the violation history that the increased flow into the landfill created some issues for the landfill,” Nesbitt told the court. “Because it is present in terms of violations, the slide and everything else.”
He added the landfill appeared to be able to operate successfully when it accepted about 2,000 tons per day. He recommended the company be required to return to this rate for the next 20 years, which would amount to a total capacity of 12.48 cubic yards.

Trash trains bring East Coast odors
Nesbitt also clarified the amendment is not based on a certain time frame and does not address daily flow. The time frame mentioned was more of a projection based on average intake data.
Boyd County resident Steve Cole asked Nesbitt if he would consider a rate that would effectively reduce the amount of garbage brought in from out-of state sources.
Cole said since the state would ensure the needs of Boyd County and other Kentucky-based customers would be met, lowering the overall capacity even further could cut off intake from some out-of-state sources since those needs are secondary.

Nesbitt, however, said he could not justify writing a suggestion that reflected Cole’s recommendation.

Boyd County Judge-Executive Steve Towler said the amendment could take up to five months to enact and it would have to be presented to the state for approval before becoming law.
EnviroSolutions Inc., the parent company for Big Run Landfill, had its CEO and President Dean Kattler and Regional Vice President Scott Cunningham present at the meeting.
ESI’s public relations representative Phil Osborne said Kattler could not comment on the suggested capacity reduction at this time.
Kattler did, however, release this statement: “We wish more than four of the 35-plus people that attended the fiscal court meeting would have attended yesterday’s two open houses where we could have listened, then answered their questions and concerns.
“We hope to see them at our July 15 open house, where we will be set up and waiting to share information.”

"We will be at your Open House on the 15th !!
This is another How great the Landfill is story by the Daily Independent this RAG is not worth reading it is not telling the full story about the pollution and and cancer causing coal ash, or fracking water waste that this company is destroying our environment with. And Kattler trying to say we are not interested enough to attend his Dog and Pony Show and saying they provide 14% of the county budget.

We got along without your filth money before the Dump Take Your Garbage Back to New Jersey. Good Job Ashland Daily  Independent Lick your Masters boots or kiss their a**'s"

 Randy Roberson
Citizen-Boyd Co Ky

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Five Boys From Royalton

 Deadwrite's Dailie's
 December 7, 2010

Uncle Bruce Stephens, circa 1943.

My dad, Woodrow Wilson Stephens, and two of his younger brothers, Bruce and Sam, all served in World War II. They were three poor Kentucky boys from a tiny backwater town called Royalton tucked away in an Appalachian holler. The Stephens boys had neighbors named Whitt who had two sons named Byron and Forrest who also went off to the war. These five boys represented a large proportion of the eligible bachelors of Royalton at the time.

Of the five Royalton boys who went off to battle, only Bruce, my favorite uncle, is still with us. Some time ago he sent me a family genealogy that included a nine-page autobiography he wrote a few years ago as he approached his eightieth birthday. To honor my father, my uncles Bruce and Sam, and the two Whitt brothers on this, the anniversary of the day that forever changed the lives of the “greatest generation,” I would like to reproduce a portion of it here:

I will always remember where I was on December 7, 1941. It was a Sunday and as usual, there was little to do for entertainment. Mostly we just loafed, but this day a couple of my buddies and I were playing cards and listening to one of the few battery radios in Royalton. We were at Ashland “Goose Eye” McFarland’s at a shanty-like garage he used for a home on Willie Shepherd’s farm at a place on Licking River called the Narrows. We could only get two or three stations: KDKA in Pittsburgh, WLW in Cincinnati, and WHAS in Louisville. Over whichever station we had on, the announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came over the air repeatedly, which put an end to our card game. Young men in the area rushed to enlist, but at seventeen, I was not old enough.
My brother Woodrow and our neighbor, Bal Whitt’s son Byron, were already in the navy. My brother had only recently been shipped out of Pearl Harbor and thus escaped the attack, but Byron Whitt was serving as a gunner’s mate on the USS Arizona and was killed and went down with the ship. Years after the war ended, my wife and I visited the USS Arizona memorial where Byron Whitt’s name heads the last column of those killed.

In January of 1943, Uncle Bruce was finally old enough to enlist. He continues with his own wartime experiences where he served in the navy on a hydrographic survey ship at Iwo Jima:

The first battle we engaged in was Iwo Jima. We operated close in to the beach and had a ringside view of the awful action occurring before us, but surprisingly our ship was never struck by enemy fire. We were several times endangered by the falling empty cartridges from our own planes strafing enemy positions on shore.
I had occasion to accidentally come in contact with Byron Whitt’s younger brother Forrest, a marine, as our two ships almost touched each other on our way to Iwo Jima, which many say was the bloodiest battle of the war. We spoke to each other briefly but I never saw him again. He was killed in action on Iwo Jima. Because his brother Byron was entombed on the Arizona, his father and mother elected not to have Forrest returned to the United States and he was buried on Iwo Jima. Both are where they fell fighting for their country. Our neighbors, Bal and Josie Whitt, lost two sons. My two brothers, Woodrow and Sam and I all survived without a scratch. Seems unfair, but sometimes that’s the way it is.

Thanks Bruce, and Sam, and Byron, and Forrest.
And thanks to you, Dad. … I miss you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

JFK: Cold Warrior to Peace Maker.

In a 1966 New York Times feature article on the CIA, this statement by JFK appeared without further comment: “President Kennedy, as the enormity of the Bay of Pigs disaster came home to him, said to one of the highest officials of his Administration that he wanted ‘to splinter the C.I.A. in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.’”Presidential adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., said the president told him, while the Bay of Pigs battle was still going on, “It’s a hell of a way to learn things, but I have learned one thing from this business—that is, that we will have to deal with CIA . . . no one has dealt with CIA.”
Earth shattering quotes from JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James Douglass.
Essential reading for any thinking breathing human being who wants to understand the depth and breadth of the diabolical forces that still rule the world today, 52 years after Kennedy was assassinated.
It’s not often that the intersection of history and contemporary events pose such a startling and chilling lesson as does  the contemplation of the murder of JFK on November 22, 1963 juxtaposed with the situations  faced by President Obama today.   So far, at least, Obama’s behavior has mirrored Johnson’s, not Kennedy’s, as he has escalated the war in Afghanistan by 34,000. One can’t but help think that the thought of JFK’s fate might not be far from his mind as he contemplates his next move in Afghanistan.

Douglass presents a very compelling argument that Kennedy was killed by “unspeakable” [forces] within the U.S. national security state because of his conversion from a cold warrior into a man of peace.  He argues, using a wealth of newly uncovered information, that JFK had become a major threat to the burgeoning military-industrial complex and had to be eliminated through a conspiracy planned by the CIA – “the CIA’s fingerprints are all over the crime and the events leading up to it” – not by a crazed individual, the Mafia, or disgruntled anti-Castro Cubans, though some of these may have been used in the execution of the plot.

Why and by whom?  These are the key questions.  If it can be shown that Kennedy did, in fact, turn emphatically away from war as a solution to political conflict; did, in fact, as he was being urged by his military and intelligence advisers to up the ante and use violence, rejected such advice and turned toward peaceful solutions, then, a motive for his elimination is established.  If, furthermore, it can be clearly shown that Oswald was a dupe in a deadly game and that forces within the military/intelligence apparatus were involved with him from start to finish, then the crime is solved, not by fingering an individual who may have given the order for the murder or pulled the trigger, but by showing that the coordination of the assassination had to involve U.S. intelligence agencies, most notably the CIA .
Douglass does both, providing highly detailed and intricately linked evidence based on his own research and a vast array of the best scholarship.We are then faced with the contemporary relevance, and since we know that every president since JFK has refused to confront the growth of the national security state and its call for violence, one can logically assume a message was sent and heeded.  In this regard,  it is not incidental that former twenty-seven year CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, in a recent interview, warned of the “two CIAs,” one the analytic arm providing straight scoop to presidents, the other the covert action arm  which operates according to its own rules.
“Let me leave you with this thought,” he told his interviewer, “and that is that I think Panetta (current CIA Director), and to a degree Obama, are afraid – I never thought  I’d hear myself saying this – I think they are afraid of the CIA.”  He then recommended Douglass’ book, “It’s very well-researched and his conclusion is very alarming.” [i]
Let’s look at the history marshaled by Douglass to support his thesis.First, Kennedy, who took office in January 1961 as somewhat of a Cold Warrior, was quickly set up by the CIA to take the blame for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961.  The CIA and generals wanted to oust Castro, and in pursuit of that goal, trained a force of Cuban exiles to invade Cuba.  Kennedy refused to go along and the invasion was roundly defeated.  The CIA, military, and Cuban exiles bitterly blamed Kennedy. But it was all a sham.
Though Douglass doesn’t mention it, and few Americans know it, classified documents uncovered in 2000 revealed that the CIA had discovered that the Soviets had learned of the date of the invasion more than a week in advance, had informed Castro, but – and here is a startling fact that should make people’s hair stand on end –  never told the President. [ii] The CIA knew the invasion was doomed before the fact but went ahead with it anyway.  Why?  So they could and did afterwards blame JFK for the failure.
This treachery set the stage for events to come.  For his part, sensing but not knowing the full extent of the set-up, Kennedy fired CIA Director Allen Dulles (as in a bad joke, later to be named to the Warren Commission) and his assistant General Charles Cabell (whose brother Earle Cabell, to make a bad joke absurd, was the mayor of Dallas on the day Kennedy was killed) and said he wanted “to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”  Not the sentiments to endear him to a secretive government within a government whose power was growing exponentially.The stage was now set for events to follow as JFK, in opposition to nearly all his advisers, consistently opposed the use of force in U.S. foreign policy.

In 1961, despite the Joint Chief’s demand to put troops into Laos, Kennedy bluntly insisted otherwise as he ordered Averell Harriman, his representative at the Geneva Conference, “Did you understand?  I want a negotiated settlement in Laos.  I don’t want to put troops in.”

Also in 1961, he refused to concede to the insistence of his top generals to give them permission to use nuclear weapons in Berlin and Southeast Asia.  Walking out of a meeting with top military advisors, Kennedy threw his hands in the air and said, “These people are crazy.”

He refused to bomb and invade Cuba as the military wished during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  Afterwards he told his friend John Kenneth Galbraith that “I never had the slightest intention of doing so.”
Then in June 1963 he gave an incredible speech at American University in which he called for the total abolishment of nuclear weapons, the end of the Cold War and the “Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war,” and movement toward “general and complete disarmament.”
A few months later he signed a Limited Test Ban Treaty with Nikita Khrushchev.In October 1963 he signed National Security Action Memorandum  263 calling for the withdrawal of 1,000 U. S. military troops from Vietnam by the end of the year and a total withdrawal by the end of 1965.[iii]
All this he did while secretly engaging in negotiations with Khrushchev via the KGB , Norman Cousins, and Pope John XXIII , and with Castro through various intermediaries, one of whom was French Journalist Jean Daniel. In an interview with Daniel on October 24, 1963 Kennedy said, “I approved the proclamation Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption.  I will go even further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States.  Now we will have to pay for those sins.  In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries.  That is perfectly clear.” 

Such sentiments were anathema, shall we say treasonous, to the CIA and top generals.These clear refusals to go to war and his decision to engage in private, back-channel communications with Cold War enemies marked Kennedy as an enemy of the national security state.  They were on a collision course.

As Douglass and others have pointed out, every move Kennedy made was anti-war.  This, Douglass argues, was because JFK, a war hero, had been deeply affected by the horror of war and was severely shaken by how close the world had come to destruction during the Cuban missile crisis. Throughout his life he had been touched by death and had come to appreciate the fragility of life.
Once in the Presidency, Kennedy underwent a deep metanoia, a spiritual transformation, from Cold Warrior to peace maker.  He came to see the generals who advised him as devoid of the tragic sense of life and as hell-bent on war.  And he was well aware that his growing resistance to war had put him on a dangerous collision course with those generals and the CIA.
On numerous occasions he spoke of the possibility of a military coup d’etat against him.  On the night before his trip to Dallas, he told his wife, “But, Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it.” And we know that nobody did try to stop it because they had planned it. But who killed him?

Douglass presents a formidable amount of evidence, some old and some new, against the CIA and covert action agencies within the national security state,  and does so in such a logical and persuasive way that any fair-minded reader cannot help but be taken aback; stunned, really. And he links this evidence directly to JFK’s actions on behalf of peace.He knows, however, that to truly convince he must break a “conspiracy of silence that would envelop our government, our media, our academic institutions, and virtually our entire society from November 22, 1963, to the present.”  This “unspeakable,” this hypnotic “collective denial of the obvious,” is sustained by a mass-media whose repeated message is that the truth about such significant events is beyond our grasp, that we will have to drink the waters of uncertainty forever.  As for those who don’t, they are relegated to the status of conspiracy nuts.Fear and uncertainty block a true appraisal of the assassination – that plus the thought that it no longer matters.
It matters.  For we know that no president since JFK has dared to buck the military-intelligence-industrial complex.  We know a Pax Americana has spread its tentacles across the globe with U.S. military in over 130 countries on 750 plus bases.
We know that the amount of blood and money spent on wars and war preparations has risen astronomically.
There is a great deal we know and even more that we don’t want to know, or at the very least, investigate.
Are you ready to learn the truth? Or will you keep closing eyes?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Memorial for piano genius David Maxwell

Holly Harris, Fred Taylor and Bob Margolin.

At the Memorial for piano genius David Maxwell Tuesday night in Boston, David's hat and these flowers sat on top of the grand piano onstage. David, in his last days, had actually planned the memorial requesting that nobody play piano.
The other photo is me with friends who are very important to the Boston Blues scene, and me and David Maxwell personally. Holly Harris has a Blues radio show that has been at the center of the scene for years. Fred Taylor books Sculler's Jazz Club, where the memorial was held, but he owned in the 1960s and '70s 2 clubs in the same building in downtown Boston, The Jazz Workshop and the slightly larger Paul's Mall.
In early 1972, David Maxwell and I went to The Jazz Workshop to see Freddie King. David sat in and Freddie hired him on the spot and took him on the road. In August 1973, I went to see Muddy Waters at Paul's Mall on the first night of 6 in a row there. Muddy had just lost a guitar player the night before and invited me to come to his hotel the next day and bring a guitar. He could see I wanted to play his Old School Chicago Blues and he hired me and took me on the road, a big "Crossroads" moment in my life.

Mr. Taylor, bringing in fine musicians to his clubs more than 40 years ago, when many more legends were alive, literally set the stage for the Blues careers of both me and David Maxwell. To give you an idea of what it was like then: Later in the night with Muddy I was speaking of, B.B. King came in from a rained-out concert and sat in with Muddy. You should have heard the two of them sing "Rock Me" together! And a couple of years later, when I played at Paul's Mall with Muddy, Bob Marley and the Wailers were playing at the Jazz Workshop, relatively unknown, but Mr. Taylor could see how special they were way before most people ever heard the word "Reggae." I was running over to the Jazz Workshop to watch Bob Marley on the Muddy breaks.

One more story: in 1978, at a Muddy show at Paul's Mall, an older woman was sitting in the back of the club but clutching her purse to her body. 

After the first set, she asked me: "Can you take me back to see Muddy? I'm Robert Johnson's sister and I have photos of him that nobody's seen (yes, THOSE famous photos) and I'd like to see if Muddy had ever seen Robert in Mississippi." I brought her to Muddy and Muddy was as excited as any other Blues fan to see what Robert looked like. Muddy told her he had tried to go see Robert play once, but there were so many people he couldn't get in.
All of these stories converged last night, and many more historical and living friendships and music were all there, brought together to give our love to David Maxwell, who departed last February.
— with Holly Harris, Fred Taylor and Bob Margolin.

Friday, May 15, 2015

From the Selected Works of Robert K. Thomas: March 1993 Childhood

Chapter 3 Childhood
What I wou1d like to do in this chapter is to say something about my life as youngster in a
Cherokee community in the hills of eastern Oklahoma, in order to give the reader a "feel" for the
kind of life an Indian youngster leads. I then later in the chapter I can outline some of the
changes which have taken place in that style of life. But I would like to say at this point that in
broad outline the quality of life of Indian youngsters today in rural Indian communities is very
much like my experience as a youngster.
One of my first memories is "riding" on my grandmother’s back. When my grandmother
worked in the garden or walked to the local store she usually carried me in a skin-like
arrangement on her back, facing forward. Most Indian tribes carried their babies on their backs
in cradleboards, facing backward, but the Cherokee carried the children facing forward. I can
remember riding on her back until I was almost school age. My legs were dangling down past
her waist and jumping up and down like I was riding a horse. One time one of my
grandmother’s white friends asked her, "Why is it that the Cherokees carry the baby facing
forward?" My grandmother replied, "the Cherokees, we already know where we've been, we
want to see where we are going."
We lived in a log house along a creek in the wooded hills of eastern Oklahoma. My
household consisted of my grandparents and my second mother (my mother's sister) and myself.
It is the Cherokee custom for the grandparents to take a major part in the care of children. My
father had died when I was small and my mother was working away in ~ distant city. I was an
"only child". I can remember play by myself out under a shade tree in the yard or behind the
house down the hill among some big rocks. But most of the time, I played with relatives my
own age. In fact, nearly all the people I saw in my early life were relatives. Within a three or
four mile radius there we're perhaps twenty Indian households. All the people in these
households were either blood relatives or related by marriage, and we were always visiting back
and forth to each other's houses. We, also, went on visits as much as possible to those relatives
who lived in other small Indian communities nearby. I remember I had an uncle, my mother's
brother (in the English terminology, my mother's first cousin), of whom I was very fond. My
grandfather would take me on horseback to his home in another Indian community some ten
miles away for long extended visits. My grandmother had a mother and two sisters who lived in
another Indian community some seven miles distant and we went there on visits. For these visits
the whole family would go in a spring wagon, lunching over the rough country roads of eastern
Oklahoma. But we were always visiting even within our community. Most times this was
simply dropping in and out of relative's houses. Sometimes visits were more formal.
A mile away my grandfather's oldest brother lived with his wife and two daughters, their
husbands and children, and his mother, my great-grandmother. Many times on Sunday we
would walk over to his house for Sunday dinner. I remember there used to be 30 people fed at
two tables on those visits. At other times my grandfather's youngest brother, who was somewhat
of a gay blade and lived in a nearby town, would drive out in his horse and cart and pick me up
and take me to visit my great-mother at my other grandfather's (great uncle) house. I was the first
of her great-grand children and she was very fond of me, and of course, let me do whatever I
wanted. So that nearly everyone I played with or visited were relatives.
In our community, there were several white families, and although we were not close
families, we were ''neighborly'' and would, of course, help them out in times of crisis such as
sickness or death. Sometimes during the year we traded labor with them. My family had lived in
this area of eastern Oklahoma since the 1830's, from the time we were driven out of our "old
country" in the mountain sections of Georgia and North Carolina into what was then the Indian
Territory. It was much like our "old country" and we had lived long enough in this region that we
loved it as if we had been there from the beginning of time. Our land and our relatives were
familiar and loved and my life took place in those days in this familiar and loved environment of
my relatives and my land.
Not all of my associations were simply play and visits. I worked and I learned as well.
My relatives raised me to be a good Cherokee simply by being who they were. Further, they
educated me in a more formal sense of the word. Many times I didn't even realize that I was
learning. For instance, our house was full of older Indian men on many nights who would tell
the stories of the creation, of the beginning of the world and ponder their meaning; and discuss
omens and prophecies of the future. Many times they would sit around the kitchen table while I
was playing on the floor. I am sure that I absorbed much of their knowledge indirectly. Other
times they would sit around the fireplace discussing such subjects far into the night and I can
remember dropping off to sleep, hearing their conversation as I went to sleep.
My grandfather was not a Christian but he had a good friend who was a prominent
Cherokee Baptist preacher and an Indian style curer. He would visit my grandfather, particularly
in warm weather, and they would sit out on the porch or under the shade tree and discuss the
Bible, the symbolism of the Cherokee wampum belts, and so forth. I was always near my grand
lather in those times and remember those conversations well. Other times my grandfather would
take me on short trips. My grandfather was a constable in a local small town nearby. Sometimes
he had to take trips on official business and sometimes he would travel about horse-trading. He
would saddle up his horse and put a pillow back of his saddle and I would ride behind him. As
we traveled the road he would tell no stories. As we approached points in our journey he would
tell me of events that happened there when he was a child, or perhaps he would tell me an older
story that older men had told kiln when he was small. The eastern Oklahoma landscape, thus,
became live for me in terms of its meanings and its history. My roots were deep and my being
fixed in that soil.
Other times my education in the Cherokee mode was more formal. My "uncle" that I
mentioned who lived in a community some 10 miles away was my mentor and teacher of the
ways of the wild. He taught me to hunt, to fish, to trap, to shoot, to do all those things a young
Cherokee male must be skilled at. One of my first memories was of tagging along after him
when he was hunting and later of carrying his gun. Other times I hunted with older boys,
relatives, teenage boys back in my home community. I had father (an uncle in English thought)
who taught me how to run. I was interested in learning how to run and I went to him with this
specific request. I remember I took him a cigar and asked him if he would teach me to run, since
he was well known as a fine runner. I must say I found training hard, but in the end, well worth
it. Some men taught their children how to read in the Cherokee language. We are very proud of
our writing system, developed by our great genius, Sequoyah. But most of us were not interested
in reading at that stage of our lives. Most Cherokees learn to read in Cherokee in their thirties
when they want to read the Bible, old Cherokee laws, curing prayers, or older Cherokee
As you can see from reading over this narrative so far, I spent a lot of time outside of my
household. In fact, most of the children of our community didn’t “belong” to simply a single
father and mother. They belonged to the whole kin group. No one "owned" a Cherokee child and
to some extent we simply "floated" from house to house, from relative to relative. As I
mentioned earlier, I would go on extended visits to live with my uncle in another community and
in the summer I would stay weeks with my grandmother's sister, who lived 10 miles away.
In those days, the Cherokees lived off the land and I was as much a part of the activity of
wresting a living from the land as an adult. In the spring, the ladies would put in large gardens
and the garden among Cherokees, like the house, is the domain of the women. Nevertheless, we
would all come to help break the ground and plant. Everyone in the community would assemble
at that one home and help put in the garden and the next day go to the next home and help put in
the garden there. The women would cook sumptuous meals trying to outdo one another for this
work group, made up of the whole community; and we made this planting a time of enjoyment,
almost d party. During the rest of the summer the ladies in the household or perhaps ladies who
lived close to one another, relatives, would work the gardens together. Then in the fall we would
all assemble once again for the harvest and go from house to house harvesting the gardens. After
the harvest small groups of women would assemble at one another's house to help preserve the
food. Later, we would have a "corn shucking", along with square dance that night.
I was an accomplished hunter by the age of twelve and had my own rifle. And when I was
given three shells for my rifle I was expected to bring back three squirrels, three birds, three
rabbits, or the like. Groups of younger children and women gathered wild foods from early
spring to late fall - wild greens in the springtime, berries in the summer, nuts and persimmons
and wild grapes in the fall. And this gardening, hunting, and gathering were the mainstay of our
life. Cherokee men, particularly young men, teenagers, and even children spend great deal of
time hunting all through the year but particularly in the fall and winter. Sometimes this hunting
was done alone or perhaps several teenage brothers with their younger brothers "tagging" along.
Fishing followed the same pattern although the major time of fishing was, of course, in warm
weather. A few Cherokees in other areas did "cash crop" farming, raised and sold corn or cotton;
but that wasn't our style around home. We did not hunt because we liked to kill. We hunted in
order to eat. The old people told us that it was God's plan that the Cherokees should live off the
wild game. But we thought everything had a right to exist unmolested. We killed animals and
cut down trees because we needed to eat and to keep warm. We pulled up plants to eat or to use
in curing. We did "landscape" our yards. Some Indian doctors put pinch of tobacco in the hole
where they pull up an herb, a thanks and a replacement. Sometimes we prayed for success
before a hunt and for forgiveness afterwards. We knew that it was God's plan that living things
in this world should feed one another and respect one another.
Large game was not as plentiful in our area as it once had been. Some years my
grandfather and some of our family would go back to a particularly good hunting and fishing
area of the Appalachians where we had distant relatives. We would live in a hunting camp there
during November and part of December, and return laden with meat. Others would go to the
Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, not too far distant, for deer and bear. Cherokees
in other areas did not hunt as extensively as we did in our community nor travel as far on hunting
trips. My grandfather kept hogs which we killed in the fall and my grandmother kept chickens
which we used for eggs and frying chickens. In May I carefully watched each growing chicken
to see if it was big enough to fry, and from the middle of June to the middle of July it seemed we
ate nothing but frying chickens. A few households in our communities kept cows but, by and
large, Indians are not fond of milk and some households did not even keep hogs (in the old days
hogs had run wild) or chickens but tended to eat the meat of wild game entirely.
In the old days of the Indian territory many Cherokees owned cattle but there were very few
Indian Cattlemen when I was growing up possibly because we didn't have enough land then.
Cherokees are fond of barbecued beef and somehow we managed to get a beef or two for the
public gatherings, but usually we ate little beef. All through the process of making a living,
everyone from the oldest to the youngest was involved and there was a great deal of sharing of
goods and labor. We had very little money in those days or very little need for money. There
was a small country store in the vicinity but we bought very little more than needles, thread, salt,
coffee, spices, sometimes sugar, sometimes side meat in late winter, and rarely we would treat
ourselves to pop or a can of sardines or a little candy for the younger children.
In past years Cherokees had made their own clothes and when I was a child Cherokee homes
usually had an old loom and spinning wheel in the loft of the house, but by the time I was born
we bought most of our clothes. Most of money that we had in those days went to buy cloth to
make dresses or "ready-made" clothes which were well used soon and\much darned and mended;
plus that rarest and most cherished of commodities, shoes. Children wore them only during the
wintertime or on special formal occasions. We bought them "in town" and carried them, to save
wear, more than we wore them. And a relative who was part-time cobbler repaired them.
Most Cherokee women in that era wore a red bandana around their heads, but all selfrespecting
Cherokee men wore Stetson hats. After a man had used well a Stetson hat he would
pass it on to a younger teenage relative. I can remember one of the proudest times of my life was
when, as a teenager I was allowed to buy my own new Stetson hat and a new pair of boots. My
grandfather had a small income which brought in money every month but most others in our
community amassed what little money they had by farm labor on the farms or ranches or the rich
whites in the general area or by cutting and selling railroad cross-ties. There was, of course, in
those days no welfare or social security, or pensions, or the like; nor were there old age homes.
We would have been shocked at the suggestion that we should separate from our elderly whom
we so cherished and put them in some building far away under the care of strangers. In fact, we
saw few strangers in our community. A stranger was indeed a rarity and somewhat frightening,
not simply to the children but to grown people as well. I remember my grandmother was
particularly afraid of strange Whites and if a strange White came to our house, especially one
well dressed, he would hide in the house and not answer the door. I was simply stunned by the
appearance of strangers. My grandfather spoke English well and was well traveled, but most of
us were simple, country people; "full bloods", as whites called us.
Sometimes we saw Creek Indians traveling through our area, strung out in a line as was
their custom, going to visit relatives who lived to the east of our settlement. Often they would
stop to visit a while with my grandfather. They were a strange and exotic people to me even
though I liked their laughing and friendly manner. Also, I knew I had distant relatives who were
black people. (Many Cherokees were slaveholders in the old days.) My grandfather would visit
with them on occasion when we met them in town and once in a while they would drop by the
house if they were in need. They were kind and gentle, but really not of my world.
I had no reason to leave our community. Most of our wants were taken care of right in that
area by our relatives. There were older women in our community who knew herbs and could
cure most of our childhood diseases. My grandmother was one such person and tier sister who
lived in another community was a well-known herb doctor. Women, particularly older women
delivered the children. If we needed someone to deal with serious illness, there was a
neighboring community in which lived a very renowned Indian doctor. He was a distant relative,
but still somewhat of a stranger and a little bit awesome because he was a holy man. If all else
failed, there were old fashioned White country doctors in the area who could be relied upon and
would be willing to wait great lengths of time for the payment of their fees or take produce in
lieu of money. When someone was sick we all took care of them, cut their wood, and did their
farm work for them. And if they died we laid them in the earth ourselves.
We had many religious ceremonies in our homes - birth ceremonies, curing rites, funerals,
purification of the house, herb medicine before eating "green" corn, herb medicine at the
Cherokee New Year in October, hunting rituals at the fireplace, planting ceremonies at the
garden, rituals to insure plant growth at the garden in June, rituals to protect the house and
garden from the fierce Oklahoma storms, religious purification before dawn at the spring many
mornings, and so many I can't remember them all. I, also, knew that my grandfather used the old
Cherokee war medicine (prayers and charms) in his work as a "law man". We had a ceremonial
ground nearby called a "stomp ground". Once a month we would all go there for an all night
worship dance, for a dance that was both fun and holy at the same time. At times, particularly in
the warm weather months. We would assemble for larger ceremonies; sometimes traveling by
horseback and wagon many miles to other stomp grounds for ceremonies lasting four to seven
days. When we worshipped at our local ceremonial grounds it was with immediate relatives, and
of course, most of the elders who were chiefs and priests of our ceremonial grounds were our
grandfathers. When we journeyed to other ceremonial grounds for more tribal-wide ceremonial
occasions, it was an even more festive occasion. It would take us several days by horseback and
wagon to take the trip and we would camp under the trees and visit relatives from far off that we
had not seen since last year, as well as friends. The local ceremonial grounds strengthened our
local kin ties and celebrated those kin ties and our relationship with the land and God. Our
ceremonies at the larger stomp grounds were for the whole tribe and were even more festive and
joyous occasions.
In another community not too far away there was a small Cherokee Indian Baptist church
and sometimes we would journey to that community to attend that church. The sermon was in
the Cherokee language, the hymns were sung in the Cherokee language, and the Bible was
written in Cherokee. We would enjoy the service, the singing, the visiting, the worship, the
communion, and being "honored" guests, so to speak. At times there would be what were called
singings at this church which included all the Cherokee Baptist churches in our area and of
course, we would always attend those; as well as grave decorating in May. In the fall all the
Cherokee Baptists came together at a permanent campground for a week of worshiping together.
This was as festive and as renewing an occasion as the large native ceremonies.
Of course, religious ceremonies were not our only entertainment. My grandfather was an
avid card player and a very bad loser. We played cards a lot in our house and my grandfather
always sulked when he lost. Some of my fathers were great gamblers as welt. We didn't have
many public garbs in our settlement, but in other Cherokee areas Indians played and bet on bow
and arrow contests. However, there were many musicians and singers along our creek. On
summer evenings there were always musicians playing and singing on someone's porch. "Little
Brown Jug" was my grandfather's favorite, but my grandmother and I liked "Red Wing". I had
one uncle who played d fine French harp (harmonica) and two sisters who cou1d sing like the
angels. And we became dedicated country music fans when, in the 1930s, my mother brought us
home a radio from the city. Square dances were held almost monthly at one of the houses on the
creek, and square dancing was one of those rare activities that brought Indians and Whites
together. Since my grandfather always attended the square dances we had very little gun play
then, even though the fruit jars of home brew and white liquor were being passed around out
back of the house. Although Cherokees did not have the good horses of past years we still
enjoyed a good horse race on a Sunday afternoon rodeo at a neighboring white rancher's place.
And Cherokees were yet good horsemen and cowboys in those days, especially my own family.
In fact, my mother could have become a professional sulkies race driver if she had been a man.
Except for large religious gatherings outside our small community we rarely needed to leave.
We made our living there; we had our own doctors, and our religious expression there among our
relatives. As we boys grew older, our attention turned toward the girls. It was very exciting to
go to the church singings and the great Cherokee ceremonies where we would meet suitable girls
who were not related to us and who were unknown and exciting human beings. But except for
these few needs, we tended to live a self-contained life.
We tried to settle our differences among ourselves. There were, however, formal law
enforcement agencies in the area. As I mentioned, my grandfather was a constable in a small
town nearby. He had been a Cherokee Sheriff of one of the districts of the Cherokee Nation
before the State of Oklahoma when our area was part of the Cherokee Nation; and later a United
States marshal. The sheriff of our county was a Cherokee Indian and even the county judge was
a Cherokee who could conduct his court proceedings in the Cherokee language if need be.
However, all of this was outside of our lives. The "law" was a foreign agency to us and we
tended not to get involved in such matters. There were in Oklahoma some cattle rustlers and
bank robbers, Whites and a few Indians, but we never had enough cattle nor money to be worthy
of their attention. And if some of the Indian outlaws who were related to us came to our
community we welcomed them and hid them and never knew anything when the "law" inquired.
If the law was outside of our life, government and schools were even further outside our
lives. This had not always been the case. When I was growing up I heard the older people,
raised before 1907, talk about when the Cherokee Indians had our own schools and government.
Certainly, in that time, even Cherokees in the most isolated communities were involved in
government and schools. But after the state of Oklahoma came into the Union and our
government and schools were dissolved, we simply took no notice of such affairs and, by
unspoken mutual agreement with our white neighbors, we took no part in government or formal
education. We were exploited, to a degree, by formal government and there was much illegal
taking of Indian land when I was growing up; but the local political "boss" of our county was a
southern patron of the old school. He knew everyone by name, could speak a few words of bad
Cherokee, and was always willing to do you a favor, every though he knew that most Cherokees
did not vote in that time. However, this non-participation in politics did not, at the time, seem to
be serious lack in our life. My family had fought on the Union side during the Civil War and our
sympathy were with the Republican party; so even if we had bothered to vote we would have
been an island of Indian Republicans in a sea of white Democrats.
The other thing that was outside of our life was schools. When I was growing up the older
people were very suspicious of what they called the "Whiteman’s schools", as opposed to
Cherokee schools of earlier days. The older people suspected that these schools, which were
controlled entirely by whites, might teach Cherokee children not to be good Cherokee Indians,
but to be good Whites. So there was separation of our life from the schools. However, most of
us ended up in the local one-room school house and although we were not part of the educational
"act", our White neighbors sat on the school board and would certainly intercede for us if need
be. We were still, in one room, with our older and younger relatives. My brother (a distant cousin
in English terminology) was my school chum. On the playground, the Cherokee children usually
played together mainly because of the language difference between the White kids and ourselves.
School was not an unpleasant experience. At the time, it just seemed a bonny requirement of
living. Very few Indians in those days completed the eighth grade and it was rare that an Indian
young person went to high school. I was one of the few and my main motivation stemmed from
being a runner and an interest in sports. But if school and government were far away from us the
general White society was even further.
Once every couple of weeks we would all hitch up the wagon and ride into the county seat,
usually on Saturday, sometimes on court day, for a day in town. The day was very exciting but
very frightening so that the combination of fright and excitement made it thrilling. It was noisy;
it was full of people; it was a cafeteria of pleasures and temptations. My grandfather’s brother,
the "gay blade" who I mentioned earlier, lived in town and worked as a night guard in the local
bank. He always had money and when he met me in town on Saturday he would give me a dime
to go to the picture show that afternoon, a cowboy show. My grandmother usually accompanied
me, even though her English was limited and she didn't really understand the dialogue. Further,
she thought the movie plots were immoral and would comment that "the meanest man always
wins in those shows". But she liked horses and sat enthralled through the whole movie, watching
the fine horses prance across the screen. One could stand on the street all day long and never "get
one's eyes full". We met relatives and friends from far away; White friends of my grandfather
would speak to us in a strange language and frighten me by trying to pick me up. I usually held
my grandmother tightly by the hand, ready to run behind her skirts at the slightest hint of danger.
However, as I came into my teens, I too liked to lean up against the building, tilt my Stetson hat
forward, and "people watch". But town was a strange and foreign land and Whites were a strange
and foreign people. It was interesting, exciting, and thrilling, but I knew that at the end of the day
we would go back home - the place where my relatives live and buried, where things were
familiar; home where I was loved, home where the people, the land, and I were all of one piece.
When I was around twelve our life began to change significantly. The Dust Bowl and the
Depression hit eastern Oklahoma full blast. Gardens failed for about four years straight. Wild
foods were almost non-existent. Some White Oklahomans began to move to California seeking
work. Many of us began to work "out in the public." When I was twelve I worked a year almost
full time for a White dairy farmer and went to school as well. In the summer we all worked for
White farmers "putting up" hay - 5 a day if you brought your own horse; and in the cold weather
we cut timber. One summer I went visiting in another state and worked in a mine. Life was hard
in those years, but it was still full and rich in human terms. Unlike most Cherokees, I went on to
high school. (I was an athlete.) My high school experience was both pleasant and unpleasant. I
enjoyed athletics and learning, but it was an uncomfortable social situation. There was one other
Indian boy in my class and we "hung together", but I did make a few white friends.
Some aspects of life at home were beginning to change, as well. I was taking on more
responsibility and becoming a youth rather than child, and some of my relationships were
changing. I began to associate a lot with boys my own age, strictly separated from the girls,
from about the age of twelve the sexes are socially separated among Cherokees. I was very shy,
even at fifteen, and only vaguely interested in girls, but some male friends and kin were actually
courting girls - visiting their homes or meeting them at social or religious gatherings. The older
people kept an eye on us, in case we might become interested in a female relative or to gauge
how serious the affair was. They never interfered openly, but somehow later on at the right time
the “right” pair settled down together. If a “love child” was produced from a casual affair it was
simply taken as a gift from the Creator, without stigma attached to either mother or child. But
serious courting usually did not take place until one was 18 or 20. However, it was at this time
in my life that I became aware of a world of women separate, distinct, and somewhat hidden
from the world of men.
I do not know how life went for maidens my own age in those times but I can tell you some
observations of later years, particularly from watching my daughter grow up. Cherokee society
is very women oriented. Our family line is traced through the female. Our most powerful
“gods” were female. We call the source of life and energy, the Sun, “Our Grandmother”.
Cherokee women “own” the land and the home. Many men, even today, live in their wife’s
community after marriage. The mother and her brothers guide the lives of children. Cherokee
women manage and direct the household and thus, indirectly, Cherokee society. Older women
prepare young women in their “teens” to be managers and directors of Cherokee life. The oldest
girl of a household already knows how to raise children and tend a house. In this “teen age”
period they learn not only skills and responsibility, but also how to gently manage social
relations so as to direct the community. At the same time they are encouraged to enjoy the
freedom of their youth. And like most American Indian females, they like their suitors a little
“wild”. I sometimes feel that Cherokee men are kept around just to make life a little more
exciting. But in my youth Indian women were simply beautiful, exciting, and mysterious
In 1942 I graduated from high school and prepared to go into the service, since World War II
had commenced. My uncle came to me before I left and gave me a great gift. He taught me an
ancient Cherokee prayer-song which would protect me in battle and gave me a protective charm
as well. When I left for the service I knew that even if I were in a strange place, I still had a
home where I was loved; that even though I might get lonely I was never alone; that I would live
on this Earth as long as the Cherokee people lived. I guess I was coming to “realize something”,
as the Cherokees say. I guess I was becoming a young man.
This kind of life I lived as a child and a youth in a Cherokee community is probably fairly
typical of the life of most Indians of my generation, but in some ways the Cherokee situation is
unique when compared to many other Indian groups. Cherokees did not live on a reservation
and were never strictly reservation Indians. Before 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, the
Cherokee people were citizens of a small independent republic called the Cherokee Nation and
after the state of Oklahoma. We became a minority of the citizens of Oklahoma, the majority
being recently integrated whites from other states. Secondly, the Cherokees had been uprooted
from our native land, our “old country”, and driven west in the late 1830s. Most other Indian
peoples in the United States still reside in their aboriginal homeland. Thirdly, Cherokees when I
was growing up still made their living from the land. This was not possible for other tribes in
large areas of the United States An example in the extreme were the Indians of the Great Plains
who were buffalo hunters and after 1880 with the extermination of the buffalo found themselves
existing at the largess of the federal government.
There have been changes in Cherokee life in the last 40 years, particularly since World War
II. The mainstay of Cherokee economic life is no longer subsistence gardening. Cherokee
gardening is carried on to a very limited extent today. However, there is still extensive hunting,
and the gathering of wild foods. But cash from wage labor or welfare payments have become
much more prominent and working together on the land less common. Secondly, Cherokees stay
in school much longer than before and most Cherokees over 10 and under 50 now speak both
English and Cherokee. Thirdly, Cherokees have become more involved in schools and
government. Not only are Cherokee children staying in school longer but also Cherokee adults
are being included at least to a small degree in school affairs by way of Indian education
programs and the like nowadays in schools. In recent years the federal government has promoted
a resurrected Cherokee tribal government controlled by local Whites and of limited power and
function, but which, however, actively runs great many social and economic programs for the
Cherokee people. Cherokees are now involved to a much greater extent in the governing of their
lives, for good or ill, than ever before.
The major change in Cherokee life besides wages is that Cherokee communities are not as
physically or socially isolated as they once. Paved roads run everywhere through the Cherokee
country now, and White society is closer both physically and emotionally to Cherokees now.
There has also been real deal of change in the shape of the land. Highways have changed the
landscape; there are now many more people living on the land; there are many man-made lakes
in the Cherokee area: parks, tourist facilities and the like are all over eastern Oklahoma. Many
of these changes are not to the Cherokee liking. White society is intruding too quickly and too
intensively into Cherokee communities and while, from Cherokee eyes, is damage to and
exploitation of the country is disturbing to Cherokees. Most Cherokees see the land as being
mistreated and are becoming aware of how much they love their land as they see it becoming
In recent years, however, many Indian families have moved to city areas and Indian young
people in cities live much like others in the city, with some significant differences. There is
usually an Indian center in cities where Indians can come together for social gatherings and see
friends and other city Indians. Many city Indian families spend a great deal of time visiting back
home in their rural “home” communities, and in most areas in the United States now there are
Indian pow-wows held during the summer. Indian families are able to gather and camp for a
weekend of association with fellow Indians when they desire and finances enable them. I am sure
that in reading this chapter so far, you have come to understand that young Indians grow up in an
environment of the known and loved and have a strong sense of place and roots and identity and
continuity; although some tribes now have severe social problems such as crime, heavy drinking,
and the like. Further, you must also have seen from this material that there is very little of what
is called a generation gap among Indians. Life flows from one generation to another, but perhaps
one could say this about many communities in the world.
However, there is one way in which the life of children and youth among American Indiar1s
contrasts with almost any other communities in the world; that is the degree of freedom and
respect given to children. All Indians receive respect and are given freedom by their kinsmen
regardless of their age. If there is one feature of American Indian life that is noticeable and
contrasts with most any other group in the world, it is the idea that each individual regardless of
age, sex, position, or what have you, is entitled to privacy and respect as an individual. Some
anthropologists have commented on how North American Indians rarely interfere with one
another and how little “authority” there is in Indian tribes. In fact, Indians will rarely give
unsolicited advice or even directions in a car. Even if an Indian knows you are going the wrong
way, most will simply sit quietly because their opinion has not been asked. One does not intrude
upon the privacy or integrity of another, particularly one’s kinsmen with whom harmony is
important. Many authors have commented on how North American Indians live in harmony
with the natural world but harmony with one’s kinsmen is as great a value as harmony with the
natural world.
Indian parents have no notion that they are “raising” a child or molding a human being or do
things for the good of the child. A child is simply a small kinsman and one lives in harmony with
a small kinsmen. That does not mean that one expects a small kinsmen to be as knowledgeable
as a large kinsmen or even as efficient as a large kinsmen, but small kinsman has the same rights
and in some senses the same responsibilities as a large kinsman. But one would not allow a
small kinsman to violate one’s own rights. There is a give and take in this relationship. One
does not interfere in the business of a kinsman and one reacts with some sense of violation if a
kinsman interferes in one’s own business, regardless if the person is large or small. Cherokees
do not interrupt other Cherokees regardless of age, and an adult Cherokees would be just as
offended by an interruption on the part of a child as he or she would be by such behavior on the
part of an adult. Further, since one does not interfere or intrude on or coerce. This means a child
or an adult is free to learn at his or her own pace. Learning and tasks are voluntary so that
children, like adults, learn at their own pace, participating and helping one another at things they
feel competent to “take hold of”. Cherokee children are never told when to take part in an
activity in order to learn, or when not to take part in an activity in order not to lessen the
efficiency of the activity.
As a child or as a teenager I can rarely remember being “called down” by anyone, much less
physically disciplined. I remember sometimes when I was a small child and making a lot of
noise my grandmother other would say to me rather disapprovingly, “The Cherokees don’t make
a lot of racket.” She was informing me that it is not in the nature of the Cherokee to make a lot
of noise and that if I made a lot of noise it must be that I’m not truly a Cherokee - a condition
which was a little frightening for me. I have had adults divert my attention when it looked like I
was going to injure myself and I have later in life done the same thing with my own children. I
have even had my grandmother (aunts) tell me that “old raw-head and bloody bones” lived in the
well or tell me stories about different spirits which lived in the woods and in the dark at night. I
presume to discourage me from wandering off by myself in the woods or around at nights. But
they never had to tell me not to wander off at night nor tell me not to look-in the well. I have had
my grandmother say, when I was playing in bed late at night, that I had better go to sleep or else
I would draw the attention of some lurking spook, perhaps “old raw head and bloody bones”. (I
can remember being shown his picture on an old iodine bottle once!) But all these were indirect
pressures and I was rarely openly forbidden to do something or openly ordered to do something.
I participated in activities as I saw fit. However, if I assumed some responsibility on my own
and then began to be lax, I would get disapproving looks and a “cold shoulder”. In fact, one of
the major sanctions which Cherokees use is to simply withdraw when they see some behavior of
which they disapprove. This is not consciously aimed at forcing the errant child to “get in line”
but it certainly accomplishes the job. Indians are very responsive and sensitive to the moods of
one another, are very sensitive to criticism; and the withdrawal of access to one’s self on the part
of a loved adult can be devastating to Indian children.
All this is to say that Cherokee adults live with Cherokee children in the same manner they
live with other Cherokee adults. They do not order, coerce, intrude into another’s privacy or
integrity, and they expect the same behavior in return. When they do not get the same behaving
in return, they would disapprove and withdraw. I can only remember one time in my life when I
was disciplined in the strict sense of the word. And this was by the “uncle” I mentioned earlier,
who lived in a community some seven miles away. I had during a time when we were
butchering hogs got hold of a hog intestine and pulled it down close to the fence by the road.
When a group of young girls dressed in their finery on their way to school came by, I chased
them and threw the hog intestine around their legs. When I went back to the house that night,
my grandfather told me that he had heard that there was a wild boy loose in the woods and that
this wild boy had chased a group of young Cherokee girls. He asked me if I had seen this wild
boy. I replied that I hadn’t and that I did not know anything about this wild boy. He said that
perhaps we should go down and see if we could find his tracks but I countered by saying that
such a wild boy had probably left the country by now. He suggested that we go get my uncle,
whose opinion I was extremely sensitive to, to come over and see if he could track the wild boy.
I was very much against such a move.
The next week we were cracking nuts one night on the hearthstone by the fireplace and I
heard a moaning sound. I looked around and coming in the window was a figure dressed in rags,
moaning, with the hair down over its face, and with an ugly disfigured countenance (a gourd
mask). This figure crawled in my direction and I became terrified. My grandfather asked this
figure what it wanted and it replied in almost unintelligible Cherokee that it was looking for bad
boys. My grandfather said he knew of no bad boys in the area but the being kept pointing at me.
I confessed that I was the “wild boy” that had thrown the hog intestine on the young girls. My
grandfather finally interceded and said he was sure that I wouldn’t do such a thing again and
pleaded with the being to depart which it did; slowly backwards, moaning and gyrating out
through the window.
I’m afraid I was almost in trauma for two or three days and I discontinued my career as a
wild boy after that. I found out later in life that this being was my uncle from the distant
community – my mother’s brother, the kinsman who traditionally in Cherokee society disciplines
chi1dren. I have also heard of children who acted so badly that it was thought that their mind
must be wrong and were taken through a curing rite which is very uncomfortable, and involves
the scratching all over of the child with the teeth of a garfish. But I have never seen such a rite
or known anyone who has gone through it, my only personal experience with discipline was the
one and only time my uncle crawled through the window wearing rags and a gourd mask to
frighten me into good behavior. I do not remember being struck at all and rarely being “called
down”. At times if children fought, older people would tell them that if they fight like that they
will bring sickness into the home, which is a significant deterrent for unruly fighting among
younger children. And as I say, mild scaring or even diverting attention is used on children.
Children are simply thought of as small adults. Babies, of course, are in a different category.
They cannot talk or walk but they are thought of as being very special human beings with powers
to sense things that other humans cannot, slowly as children grow into competent adults their
powers as special beings decline. But in no way are they thought of as an inferior being or a
human being that will be completed in the future. They are given the same freedom, that same
responsibility if they choose it, the same respect, the same degree of privacy as any adult and
they are held to those standards as well.
Indians simply accept others as they are. We value our old people exceedingly because they
are wise. If they are forgetful we overlook something which can’t be helped. If they are slow
physically we simply wait on them. One of my playmates as a child was a boy who was
“afflicted, not quite right”. We knew that he did not understand teasing and would get upset, and
he got in the way a lot; so we did not tease him and we made room for him in our games. If
someone is eccentric, that is his way; perhaps the spiritual world has told him something we
don’t know about. If a boy is “sissified” and would rather be around women, that’s up to him. It
is his business; who are we to say? It is more important that we are relatives and should live
together in harmony.
Life was hard when I was a child, sometimes a little boring; and the fear of witchcraft was a
little “heavy”. But what I remember most vividly was the freedom, the love, and the respect.