Sunday, October 23, 2016

History nuggets …

Hello again, history crony. Here are two fresh nuggets for your edification:
"Fraud! Fraud Everywhere." I encountered that scary headline two weeks ago while back in Scranton and Waverly, Pa., chasing a few final loose ends for my forthcoming book about a group of fugitive slaves-turned-soldiers who had lived there. You know how Donald Trump has alleged that systematic vote-rigging will rob him of victory in November? And how he's called on supporters to monitor the polling "in certain places," which in Pennsylvania at least has been understood as code for Philadelphia? Well, Donald was hardly the first one to cry election foul. While poring over old newspapers in the Scranton public library, I came upon an unsigned item that The Scranton Daily Times, a conservative Democratic organ of the day, printed in October 1872. A statewide election was nearing and The Times claimed that the Republican machine was sending out hirelings, especially newly enfranchised black men, hither and yon to cast multiple votes. The writer offered a shocking solution: "when a negro from another State, brought here by the Cameron ring, presents himself to cast a fraudulent vote, shoot him dead. We ask no quarter, and we will give none on this point." (Fortunately there was no actual violence, at least according to the election coverage I could find.)
"The 'Despised race.'" As a counterpart to The Scranton Times' trigger-happy view, consider how The Pittston Gazette, another newspaper in that corner of Pennsylvania, spoke of black people during the postwar era. In an item in late 1865 titled "Fair Play for the Negro," The Gazette, a Republican weekly, noted how "the 'despised race' bravely mingled their blood with that of the Anglo-Saxon defenders of the Constitution on many well fought fields." The black man, it continued, had thus earned "a fair and equal chance with the white man in the great race of life--and if he succeeds against the odds of color and the debasing effects of generations of servitude, he will show superior capacity to those who would make color and not character the criterion of merit." Perhaps that sentiment rings a bell with you. Martin Luther King, in his immortal "I Have a Deam" speech a century later, yearned for a day when his children could live in a nation "where they not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

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