Pamela D. Toler, author of a new book about the agreed to talk to me about the book, and right off, I told her I tend to be queasy.
She assured me the book touches lightly on the blood and gore of battle wounds, and focuses on the doggedness of the women nurses.
Doggedness they sorely needed because the doctors didn't want their help.
Pamela says ""Just getting to the hospital or battlefield required these women to push against societies assumptions about what ladies should and should not do.
Georgeanna Woolsey was a New York socialite who took all the trimming off one of her dresses and a bonnet, dressed her hair as plainly as possible and, to the amazement of her family, bluffed her way into a slot in the nurses training program."
Georgeanna Woolsey wrote, "No one knows who did not watch the thing from the beginning, how much opposition, how much ill-will, how much unfeeling want of thought, these women nurses endured. Hardly a surgeon whom I can think of received or treated them with even common courtesy. Government had decided that women should be employed, and the Army surgeons - unable therefore to close the hospitals against them - determined to make their lives so unbearable that they should be forced in self-defense to leave."
Savage Station, Virginia. Union field hospital after the battle of June 27 Includes the straw-hatted Sixteenth New York Infantry who fought at Gaines' Mill on June 27. Most were captured when Confederates overtook the area during the battle of Savage's Station on June 29 during the Peninsular Campaign. Library of Congress
Pamela says the nurses "learned to cope with the sights and smells of a military hospital—dysentery and amputations were both ugly things. Some women didn't last. And I can't blame them.
Even filtered through nineteenth century gentility, the first hand accounts of Civil War hospitals are pretty grim. But many women gathered up their courage and learned not only to bandage wounds but to elbow their way through a hostile bureaucracy. They came out of the war with new skills and new confidence.
And after the war many of them used their new skills at organizing and working within male-dominated bureaucracies to make the world around them a better place.
"Many people, including me," says Pamela, "are intrigued by the stories of the women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. They were colorful and heroic, but their choices didn't change anything.
"I would argue that the women who served as nurses and their counterparts who ran the soldiers' aid societies that provided soldiers with basic necessities throughout the war had a profound impact on the status of women after the war. If you look at an American reform movement after 1865, the odds are you'll find a former Civil War nurse in the middle of things."
Pamela says the message she has taken from these Civil War nurses is that the first step to changing the world is challenging yourself.
Sometimes I think I get enough challenge just waking up in the morning, but these women went out and grabbed trouble by the horns and hung on. For women of their time, they were downright amazing!
What's an amazing woman for our time look like? I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.
Once in a while you find a book that you want to buy for everyone you know.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker strikes me that way.
I thought it ironic that I stumbled upon this book in the middle of great debate about immigration in America, about how best to confront terrorism and about how to be most true to our democratic ideals.
Hiawatha lived in a time of war, when violence could strike without warning and without mercy. His people, the Iroquois ranged across what is now New York State, Ontario and Quebec long before European immigrants arrived.
The story opens with Hiawatha mourning his wife and three daughters. They'd been killed in an attack on his village and everything he cared about had been burned to the ground. Vivid illustrations by David Shannon evoke emotion throughout the story.
Hiawatha could think of nothing but revenge, until a stranger showed up and told him of the Great Law of Peace. “Fighting among our people must stop. We must come together as one body, one mind, and one heart.”
Hiawatha was skeptical, but agreed to go to his people, the Mohawk, and help the Peacemaker present the Great Law. The Clan Mothers nodded at this idea of becoming one family, but the War Chief argued that the Onondaga chief was too strong, too violent and the Mohawk must remain ready to fight.
Hiawatha and the Peacemaker left the Mohawk, traveling to carry the message to the Cayuga, the Oneida, the Seneca and the Onondaga. He faced down hostile warriors, suspicion, and his own hatred, anger and pain.
With the help of the Peacemaker Hiawatha was healed of his desire for revenge and learned forgiveness.
Eventually, they succeeded in bringing the five nations together to lay down their weapons and trust peace.
The Five Nations of the Iroquois formed a confederacy on the Great Law of Peace, thought to be the oldest participatory democracy on earth. Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Thomas Jefferson were influenced by this peaceful union's self-government.
The author of the book, Robbie Robertson wrote the story from his memory of hearing it as a child from an Elder wisdom-keeper on the reservation. Robertson is of Mohawk and Cayuga heritage.
According to Robertson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mixed up another man with the real Hiawatha in his poem, so don't look for Gutche Gumee in this book.
This book is not his first foray into the arts. Robinson has a long and distinguished career in music for which he's been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, landed on Rolling Stone magazine’s lists of greatest artists and greatest guitar players of all time, as well as collaborated with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and produced albums by artists like Van Morrison and Neil Diamond.
I can't leave this story without mentioning that in the Iroquois Federation men and women shared power. A Clan Mother Jikonhsaseh was
instrumental in forming the democracy.
Thanks to Author Brandon Marie Miller for guest posting here this week, filling in while I recover from my six-day research trip to Washington D.C.
Brandon is an award-winning author of nine titles on U.S. history topics. Her story about a woman accused of witchcraft and hanged, touches on an experience I've been thinking a lot about lately.
Being completely helpless at the whim of people who want to kill you.
My research turned up a letter to President Roosevelt from a woman whose son is set to be hanged by the U.S. Army. Just thinking of this kind of helplessness makes me short of breath.
You've probably heard the name of Eddie Slovak, the white soldier executed for deserting in WWII. They even made a movie about him. Seen any movies about a black soldier executed?
Out of 70 soldiers court-martialed and executed in Europe during the war years, 55 of the men were black. Blacks made of 10 percent of the army.
A number of these men were hanged on extremely flimsy testamony. There's some evidence black soldiers were scapegoated for the crime of rape to save the reputation of the US Army during WWII.
In her new book, Women of Colonial America, Brandon Marie Miller writes about a woman facing similar circumstances.
The Courage of Martha Corey
She says, "to be accused of a crime-- with your life hanging in the balance-- and have no way to defend yourself, is terrifying. "
Brandon knew the ending to Martha Corey's story before she started her research. Martha's name appears on the list of those executed for practicing witchcraft in Salem Village in 1692.
Brandon's challenge was to make Martha more than just a name and get readers to care about her. So, how'd you answer that challenge, Brandon?
The answer lay in the 300-year-old record of Martha's examination and court depositions.
She at first briskly denied the accusations. But as the "afflicted" girls took over the courtroom with their hysterics, I felt her shift to bewilderment, to panic, to despair.
My heart ached for Martha, so alone against so many. I felt anger toward the accusers. Only one of the girls later publicly apologized for her role, saying she'd been deluded by the devil.
Martha remained true to herself through months of imprisonment. She never attempted to save herself by confessing or accusing others. And in the face of mass hysteria, that took real courage.
Three women had already been accused of witchcraft when a constable arrived at the home of Giles and Martha Corey in March 1692. The man carried a warrant for Martha’s arrest, charging she’d “committed sundry acts of Witchcraft.”
Since January, witch hysteria had swept Salem Village. A handful of preteen girls and teenage servants made the accusations. Normally, society would scarcely notice these girls.
Now, people recorded their every sentence, every move. Older and poorer women proved easy targets. Martha’s arrest shocked people; she was a prosperous farmer’s wife and an elected church member.
Twelve-year-old Ann Putnam had first told her parents that Martha appeared to her and tortured her with pinching “and other ways.” When Martha visited the Putnam house Ann fell into a choking fit, her body twisted in agony.
A servant in the household claimed Martha’s apparition beat her with an iron rod. Other girlish voices chimed in over the next few weeks-- Martha hurt them and consorted with the devil.
Two days after her arrest Martha appeared before Magistrate John Hathorne in Salem’s packed meeting house. Hathorne’s first words accused her: “You are now in the hands of Authority tell me now why you hurt these persons.”
Martha denied she hurt anyone. “I am an innocent person: I never had to do with Witchcraft since I was born,” she answered. “I am a Gospel Woman.”
Hathorne soon lost control of the court when “the afflicted” interrupted the proceedings. Abigail Williams pointed toward Martha—“There is a man whispering in her ear.”
“We must not believe all that these distracted children say,” Martha told Hathorne. “I saw no body.”
Then the accusers fell to the floor, shrieking in pain. Martha must have looked on, helpless and horrified. The judge urged her to confess, adding, “Do you think to find mercy by aggravating your sins?”
Martha simply replied, “But I cannot confess.” Martha continued to proclaim her innocence. “What can I do? Many rise up against me.”
Nineteen people were hanged after being convicted in the Salem Witch Trials.
Thank you, Brandon! I'm looking forward to reading your new book!
When I visited the Salem Witch Trial Museum several years ago, they had a wonderful exhibit showing how the accusations of witchcraft fit into a pattern of scapegoating and violence down through the centuries.
Of course, a prime example is the the Holocaust, which just so happens to be another topic I've been researching lately.
I can't help feeling great gratitude that I get to sleep at night without worrying I'll be targeted by violence. And I can't help thinking about other groups of people here in America and around the world that don't have that luxury.
Read about Martha and 13 more courageous Colonial Women here.
Check out Brandon's website here...
It's 1939 Lithuania.
A young boy wants to see the latest Laurel and Hardy movie, but he's given away his allowance to help Jewish refugees, thousands of them flooding in from Poland hoping to escape the Nazis.
Solly decides to hit up his aunt for a loan, one Lithuanian coin for the movie. At his aunt's shop a stranger overhears Solly's request and spontaneously offers the boy two coins. On impulse, the boy invites the stranger to his family's first night of Chanukah celebration.
That's how the Japanese Consul to Lithuania Chiune Sugihara came to attend Jewish Chanukah.
Sugihara noticed the affection between Solly's relatives and it reminded him of his own family, and of similar Japanese festivals. A friendship grew between the Japanese man and the Russian Jewish boy and his father.
The following summer, Sugihara and his wife and children, woke one morning in mid-July to an enormous clamor outside. Peering out the window, they saw scores of people crowded up against the consulate fence. They were Jewish refugees desperate to flee the Nazis.
In little time, one hundred people grew to two hundred, and within days, thousands lined up in fear for their lives, believing their only path to freedom might be a Japanese transit visa, the ticket to a Soviet exit visa. They had few options. Most of the free world refused to take in Jewish refugees from Poland or anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Three times Chiune Sugihara wired Tokyo for permission to issue the Jewish refugees visas. Three times he was denied. He discussed the situation with his wife and children. "I spent an entire night plunged in thought," he wrote later.
A career diplomat, bound by the traditional obedience of the Japanese culture, Sugihara knew he risked disgrace, and he feared for the safety of his wife and children.
"I could have refused to issue them, but would that, in the end, have truly been in Japan’s national interest? I came to the conclusion, after racking my brain, that the spirit of humane and charitable action takes precedence above all else," he wrote in is 1984 memoir. "“I am convinced to this day that I took that path of action faithfully, putting my job on the line, without fear or trepidation in my heart.”
Sugihara and his wife Yukiko sat down and began to write visas.
For 29 days, from July 31 to August 28, 1940, they wrote and signed visas by hand, more than 300 a day. Yukiko made him sandwiches, when Sugihara refused to stop for meals. Jewish refugees lined outside waiting and when some climb over the consulate fence, Sugihara paused to go out and promise he was doing all he could to help them.
"They were human beings and they needed help," he said later. "I'm glad I found the strength to make the decision to give it to them."
Sugihara was a religious man and believed in a universal God of all people. He was fond of saying, "I may have to disobey my government, but if I don't I would be disobeying God."
At the end of August, Sugihara was sent to a new post. As his family boarded the train to Berlin, he continued issuing documents through the window, and as the train left the station, handed his consul visa stamp to a refugee to authenticate more visas.
Sugihara is credited with saving some 6000 Jews from the Nazis.
As for Sugihara's young friend...most of Solly's family was murdered in the Holocaust. But Solly and his father survived in one of the outer camps of Dachau. Ironically, in May 1945, Solly was liberated by Japanese American soldiers of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, men who had been interned in their own country.
Thanks to the Japan Times and the Jewish Virtual Library for photos and information.
In the midst of photo research for PURE GRIT, I discovered the love story of Annalee Whitmore and Melville Jacoby. Right off, I admired Annalee's daring. And I was curious how she ended up in taking photographs of Army nurses serving in the Battle of Bataan.
She got credit for this photo in LIFE magazine. Her daughter told me credit for the rest of her photos went to her husband, Melville Jacoby, officially the reporter for Time and LIFE.
In 1940, the expected role for US women in their twenties was to get married and start a family. Not Whitmore. She had several hit Hollywood screenplays to her credit and a 7-year contract with MGM.
But war had broken out in China, and fascism was on the march. Annalee had edited the student newspaper at Stanford and like any good journalist, she wanted to see action.
Annalee rustled up an assignment in China with Reader's Digest, but the American government would not allow women reporters in the war zone. She heard a fellow-Stanford graduate who'd been to China was in town and she got in touch.
Mel Jacoby agreed to meet her for a drink at a bar on Wilshire Boulevard and she picked his brain. Yes, he would help, and through his connections Annalee got a position with United China Relief in Chungking.
Already smitten, Annalee was happy to find Mel was going back to China, where he became a correspondent for Time, and the two started having dinner together every evening.
As Japan grew more threatening in the fall of 1941, most Americans left China. Mel was assigned to report on events in Manila and pleaded with Annalee to come along and marry him. In November, she did, arriving on the 26th. The couple went straight to the church.
They had only just returned to Manila from their honeymoon when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and within hours, attacked the Philippines.
It was too late to leave the islands. Due to Mel's reporting in China, he was on a Japanese blacklist, and would be executed if caught.
The couple decided to retreat with the U.S. Army to Bataan and Corregidor, try to hold out for reinforcements.
As the battle surged through January and February, Annalee covered it for Liberty magazine, though most of her stories did not pass the military censors. She talked to men who'd been on the front line for weeks. "All night they hope for daylight because of the snipers, all day they hope for night so the waves of enemy planes will stop." She talked to nurses soldiering on as medical supplies and food dwindled. She wrote they all hoped to hold until until help came.
Soon it was clear no help would come. The reporters discussed the chances of getting out, getting their stories out, possibly influencing the War Department. Chances of survival here, looked grim.
Mel made arrangements for himself and Annalee on a boat. They boarded at night and navigated through the minefields to open water. Traveling by dark, sheltering along the coast when the sun came up, eventually the arrived at Cebu Island where they waited for a second larger boat.
After waiting and watching four days, they caught the Dona Nati and set off for Australia, evading Japanese warships. "There was always a tight feeling in our stomachs," Annalee said. It was twenty-two days before they sighted Brisbane.
Here's where I wanted to believe Mel and Annalee lived happily ever after. Working together taking pictures and writing stories.
But two months after the couple arrived in Australia, Mel stood on a secret Australian airfield waiting to board a plane with a small group of military men. A fighter plane lost control on take off and careened into the group. Jacoby was killed instantly. He was 25, the first American correspondent to die in a WWII combat theater.
Annalee was heartbroken. After the war she returned to China, still one of very few women journalists there. She's most well-known for the book she co-authored with Theodore H. White called Thunder out of China.
I read the The White Rose when I was eleven or twelve years old. Ten days ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the title or name of the protagonist. But then I stumbled upon the story, a story I had not heard in more than 40-years, a story that often came to mind, but blurry in my memory.
I stumbled upon a live wire stretching back to my childhood and the shock and horror of that particular story surged up to the present, as fresh as the day I first felt it.
For many, it's The Diary of Anne Frank that brings Nazi Germany up close and personal for the first time. For me, it was The White Rose and Sophie Scholl. Sophie set the standard for courage, both consciously and unconsciously throughout my life.
read practically a book a day in my pre- and early-teen years, and I liked nothing more than a chilling adventure story that kept me reading well past my bedtime.
The White Rose was such a story, though it was not fiction, as were most books I read. When I reached the last chapter and young Sophie and her brother Hans were executed, I was caught by complete surprise. Nothing in my short life had prepared me for Hitler.
The siblings, 21-yr-old Sophie and 24-year-old Hans printed and distributed literature denouncing Hitler and the Nazi government. The pamphlets called on Germans to "cast off the cloak of indifference" and engage in passive resistance to topple the regime.
Hans and his friends went out at night and painted slogans on buildings at the university they attended: Hitler the Mass Murderer and Freedom!
This photo shows the group at the Munich railway station in 1942, the summer before they were arrested and put to death. Sophie is behind the fence, Hans in the center facing the camera, Christoph Probst to the fore, and Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf to the right.
Since I rediscovered Sophie's story in the book Women Heroes of World War II, by Kathryn J. Atwood, I've had a sick-to-my-stomach feeling of fear and dread off and on, as well as finding myself close to tears in unguarded moments.
As my childhood experience of this story revisited me, I realized I had often measured myself against Sophie. Holding my whiny self up to her light, I always fell short. Below, Sophie Scholl's mug shots.
When I first came across Fannie Sellins’ story, (which is now my forthcoming book) the title of the article was In the Midst of Terror, She Went Out to Her Work. I pursued details as if they were an antidote to my fatal condition. How had Fannie found the courage to go out on the picket line day after day when violent men had threatened to kill her?
When I discovered the American military nurses that had been captured POW by the Japanese in WWII, (the subject of Pure Grit) I went on a mad search of the internet for details. I ordered every book I could find that had been written about them. How had these women survived starvation, sickness, isolation for three long years in captivity? How had they kept courage when day 930 in prison camp turned into day 931.
As a girl, I could imagine myself bravely printing forbidden pamphlets to protest an unfair government. But I only identified with Sophie to a point. I did not have the courage to risk my life as she did.
Sophie’s conviction never left her. She and Hans were executed three hours after their sentencing for treason. The prison guards reported: “They were led off, the girl first, she went without the flicker of an eyelash. None of us understood how this was possible. The executioner said he had never seen anyone meet his end as she did."
Sophie told her cell mate the day before her death, "It is such a splendid, sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young promising lives... What does my death matter if by our acts thousands of people are warned and alerted."
Today, I am not measuring myself against Sophie's courage. I'm accepting myself for who I am, and I'm freer to see Sophie more clearly, too.
When her story is no longer tinged with my self-judgement, I have greater capacity to be inspired by her integrity, to marvel at her valor, and to believe in our human ability to act with virtue in depraved and brutal circumstances.
Any thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. Leave your comment below.
I think of myself as a history buff, so I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I never gave much thought to womens' contributions to the American Revolution.
Not until I read the new book Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue.
Rich, poor, beautiful, plain, city women and farm wives, all ages, even teenage girls helped in the cause of liberty.
These women did not hesitate, but acted with bravery and resourcefulness, sharing whatever resources and skills they possessed in the fight for independence, often risking their lives, fortunes and “sacred honor” just as the men did.
Today I've invited Author Susan Casey to tell us about some of those brave women.
Nearly every American knows about Paul Revere and his ride to warn the Continental Army. Why don't we know about 16-year-old Sybil Ludington?
Sybil rode twice as far as Paul Revere, roughly 40 miles to muster the troops of her father's militia, alerting them to join her father to join the other forces fighting against the British during the Battle of Danbury.
As I delved into the lives of the women featured in my book I felt pulled into their stories, into a process of not only gathering facts but also trying to understand who they were and what motivated them.
I wondered about the feelings of Sybil Ludington, as she rode her horse though the dead of night.
What was she thinking about?
Was she scared?
I was frustrated by the lack of information about her and many others but no less curious. I wanted to know more about what prompted Lydia Darragh to walk miles to warn George Washington of an impending attack without telling anyone, including her husband.
Many of their stories were single incidents.
For example, while I found many books featuring the story of Prudence Wright as leader of the Pitchfork Brigade I was captivated to find that besides being able to organize an ambush she excelled in the art of sand scouring, a way of cleaning and also creating patterns on her wooden floor.
Discovering that fact made her come alive for me and gave me a window into a small aspect of life in another era. Days after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord setting off the American Revolution, Prudence Wright organized the women of her town of Pepperell, Massachusetts to waylay couriers taking plans to the British.
Dressed in their husband's clothing and armed with pitchforks, the women surprised the men. To Prudence's dismay one of the couriers was her own brother.
Betty Zane was only sixteen in 1782 when she fought with only a few dozen other settlers to defend Fort Henry, a frontier village in what is now West Virginia.
The British and their Native American allies would have won the conflict if Betty had not run across the battlefield and retrieved much needed gunpowder from a nearby cabin.
When she ran back across the field arrows and shots flew past her, some ripping through her petticoat. She safely slid through the doors of the fort making possible a win for the Americans in one of the last battles of the American Revolution.
As I researched and wrote about these women, I felt as though I was living with twenty plus roommates. I was as involved in their lives as in the lives of people I actually know. In the months since I finished the book I find myself missing the women and searching for ways to visit them again.
Thank you, Susan! I felt much the same way about the WWII Nurses I wrote about in Pure Grit.
I enjoyed reading Susan's book, which you can buy here... Women Heroes of the American Revolution. Find more about Susan Casey here...
Any American school child can tell you freedom is essentially the right to do what you want. Born in America and you're born with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Despite our Bill of Rights, growing list of amendments and civil protections, how many moments of the day do we find ourselves wanting something more, or something different? Not able to capture the happiness we pursue?
We experience true freedom when our fears and desires fall away, allowing us a clear view. True freedom allows us to open our hearts without counting the cost.
Clear sight plus compassion equals freedom, the freedom to act with courage upon what really matters.
Nicholas Winton was a man who put skin on those somewhat nebulous and high-minded ideals. was a successful stockbroker living the good life. Like many others around the world, in 1938 he read in the newspaper about Nazis persecution of Jews.
After the Munich agreement, when the Nazi’s marched into Czechoslovakia, Nicholas read about the thousands of families fleeing to Prague in hopes of escaping.
He took a two week vacation from his job and home in London and went to Prague to see if he could help.
The children were especially vulnerable. “I went out into the camps where the people had been put who had been displaced and it was winter and it was cold.” Nicholas Winton rented a hotel room and started figuring out a way to get the children out.
Winton tried to get the Americans to take some of the children, but our doors were closed. An embassy letter told him, “…United States Government is unable…” to help.
Finally, the British said the kids could come to England if families would agree to take them in. While the travel documents stalled in government bureaucracy...
prisoners at Dachau were forced to build a large complex of buildings to upgrade the concentration camp in preparation for large numbers of prisoners.
Nicholas Winton's small volunteer organization started to forge documents, bribe and blackmail. His motto: “If something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
A train carried away the first 20 children the day before Nazi’s marched into Prague and Adolf Hilter stood in an open vehicle touring the city and waving to the crowds. Nicholas kept at it.
Over six-hundred children on seven trains journeyed across Nazi Germany to Holland, where they caught a ferry to England. Nicholas had an eighth train loaded with 250 children and scheduled to leave September 8th when the war in Europe started.
About 88,000 Czech Jews were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. In 1945, some 15,000 children were found living in the children's home inside Auschwitz, only 93 of those children survived.
Sir Nicholas Winton, died this past week at age 106. He kept silent for 50-years about how he saved hundreds of children from Nazi genocide.
Hindsight, it's tempting to think we might have seen clearly what the Nazis were doing. We might have had the compassion to try and help. We might have been free from our fears, our plans, our wants, free enough to widen the net of our responsibilities and act with moral courage.
But listen to this.
Nicholas explained he never talked much about what he did in 1938 because "...there's too much emphasis on the past...nobody is concentrating on the present and the future."
To fully concentrate on the present and the future, we must find our way to freedom, true freedom. Add your two cents below...
Our history rises up to smite us.
The killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church appear to be directly connected to efforts of black people in this county to gain freedom from slavery and to enjoy equal treatment and opportunity.
Consider the words of the founder of this very church before he was hanged on charges of attempted insurrection in 1822.
Denmark Vessy, a former slave who'd purchased his freedom, had an opportunity to move to Africa.
He had a chance to turn his back on slavery in America and go on with his life in peace.
He stayed in South Carolina and was accused of plotting the most elaborate American slave uprising ever, it may have involved five-thousand slaves, which greatly outnumbered whites in the Charleston area.
A co-conspirator gave evidence as to Vesey's motive. “...he was satisfied with his own condition, being free, but, as all his children were slaves, he wished to see what could be done for them."
Vesey was found guilty in a secret trial on the testimony of witnesses who had been tortured. When their sentence to death was passed, it read in part...
“It is difficult to imagine what infatuation could have prompted you to attempt an enterprise so wild and visionary. You were a free man, comely, wealthy, and enjoyed every comfort compatible with your situation. You had, therefore, much to risk and little to gain. Is slavery, then, a thing so intrinsically detestable, that a man thus favored will engage in a plan thus desperate merely to rescue his children from it?”
Vesey and 35 slaves were executed. The church Vesey founded was burned to the ground and authorities in Charleston cracked down on slaves with increased cruelty.
It would be easy to conclude the story of this latest shooting with the arrest and conviction of the one young man who pulled the trigger.
But Dyylan Roof is but a single thread in the tapestry of our collective mindset, and the pattern of his thinking is directly related to the thinking of the men who sentenced Vesey. And that pattern continues to repeat itself in the weave of our communities.
This monument to Denmark Vesey unveiled just last year in Charleston was an effort to publicly erase the memory of him as a threat to white supremacy, and honor him as a champion of freedom and justice.
It's not far from the spot on Ashley Avenue where Vesey was hung from a tree...less than ten minutes from where a young black man, Tywanza Sanders, and eight others were massacred while gathered to pray.
I cannot help but ask Am I too satisfied with my own condition? Am I turning my back because I'm comfortable in my situation?
I have no ready answers, but we must have the conversation. If we want an end to violence, we must lay down our desire to be right, our political positions and our long believed stories.
Do I have the courage to become infatuated with a wild and visionary enterprise?
If the Sand Creek Massacre is news to you, as it was to me, you need to know about this turning point in American History.
Warning: It's violent, gory and horrific, but one man had the courage to try to prevent the slaughter. And in that, I find hope.
The attack in Colorado Territory came at dawn November 29, 1864. Indian villagers likely heard the pounding hooves before they saw the hundreds of blue-clad cavalrymen.
A Cheyenne chief raised the Stars and Stripes above his lodge. Others in the village of about 1000-people waved white flags. The troops responded with rifle and cannon fire.
Witnesses say some two hundred people died, warriors trying to fight back with bows and arrows, others shot down as they tried to flee. Two-thirds of the dead and mutilated bodies left on the ground were women and children. Boasting of his victory Col. Chivington paraded the body parts of dead Cheyenne and Arapaho through the streets of Denver.
A new award-winning book tells how Edward Wynkoop risked his life to meet with hostile Indians and negotiate peace in Colorado Territory.
Unfortunately, that peace never had a chance, due to prevailing attitudes of the times.
"Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! . . . . I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians." -Colonel John Milton Chivington, U.S. Army.
The bloodshed and betrayal at Sand Creek created intense mistrust among Plains Indians and hardened their resolve to resist white expansion. Warfare continued until another infamous massacre in 1890 at Wounded Knee extinguished the Indian's struggle. Repercussions from Sand Creek echo across the centuries impacting Native American culture and lives to the present day.
Black Kettle (seated center) and other Cheyenne chiefs conclude successful peace talks with Major Edward W. Wynkoop (kneeling with hat) at Fort Weld, Colorado, in September, 1864. Photo Courtesy National Archives.
Based on the promises made at this meeting, Black Kettle led his band back to the Sand Creek reservation, where they were massacred in late November. Read an eyewitness account in this article from the Smithsonian Magazine...
Author Nancy Oswald was struck by Wynkoop's integrity and courage, and his humanness. "At times he was quite full of himself and acted rashly. But he also had the gift of gab which pulled his fat out of the fire more than once. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in and was a man of action."
Nancy graciously agreed to give us a peek into her Wynkoop biography, a recent winner of the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.
Immediately before the massacre, Wynkoop was relieved from his command at Fort Lyon and told to report to his superior to explain the help he had given the Indians camped near Fort Lyon. After the massacre, and after convincing officials of wrongdoings, Wynkoop collected testimonies for the investigations of the massacre that would take place early in 1865. The atrocities committed at Sand Creek were both grisly and graphic. Despite the fact that Chivington (shown above) was found guilty of unnecessary brutality, he had mustered out of the military without punishment.
Wynkoop became very unpopular. He was called an Indian lover and the “most hated man in Colorado.” He stood firm, remaining true to his beliefs. After retiring from the military, Wynkoop helped to negotiate treaties with the Plains Indians and fought for them when annuities were not delivered on time. Often Wynkoop secured and delivered the rations himself, and he acted as a go-between when terms of the treaties were breached. Wynkoop became known as one of the few white men the Plains Indians trusted.
In 1864, Edward WynKoop's work for peace came to nothing. But his courage to sit down and talk with the enemy gives me hope. If a guy could do it then, surely we can find a way toward creating more peace in our world today. Any ideas? Can we individually make a difference?
More than a century before women were officially allowed to serve in combat positions in the U.S. Army...
...a woman planned and executed an armed raid into enemy territory.
She guided a force of three gunboats upriver to rout enemy outposts, destroy stockpiles of supplies and weapons, and free hundreds of captives.
It was June 1863. Union forces had just suffered their worst defeat yet at the hands of the Confederates and Robert E. Lee at the First Battle of the Wilderness.
Northerners needed a boost and they gained both military and psychological momentum when James Montgomery and 300 men of the Second South Carolina Black regiment and the Third Rhode Island Battery pulled off the Combahee Raid near Beaufort, South Carolina.
Who was the woman who supplied the intelligence for the raid and directed the Colonel and his men?
Nearly every school kid learns about Harriet Tubman, her escape from slavery and her work on the Underground Railroad.
Less often they hear how this amazing woman, barely five feet tall, was the first American woman to lead an armed mission behind enemy lines.
Nurse, cook, scout, and spy---Harriet did it all for the Union army. On the night of June 2, 1863 she led the force that wrecked havoc on Confederate holdings on both sides of the river and emboldened more than 700 slaves to desert their plantations and flee to freedom.
At the appearance of Union gunboats coming up the river "...overseers used their whips in vain, for they failed to drive the slaves back to the quarters. They turned and ran for the gun-boats; they came down every road, across every field, dressed just as they were when they left their work and their cabins. There were women with children clinging around their necks, hanging onto their dresses, or running behind, but all rushed at full speed for “Lincoln’s gun-boats.” Hundred crowded the banks, with their hands extended toward their deliverers, and most of them were taken aboard the gun-boats to be carried to Beaufort." Quote thanks to www.harriettubman.com/tubman2.html.
A Boston newspaper reporting the event mentioned Colonel Montgomery later gave a speech, which was followed by words from "the black woman who led the raid....For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created a great sensation... "
The story ends on a further unfortunate note. Harriet Tubman was paid a mere $200 for her service to the Union Army over the course of the war, and was refused veteran's benefits. Though she received benefits as the wife of a veteran, she died in poverty.
Last week I told you about Joy Kogawa, a Canadian Japanese woman whose family was torn apart and interned during WWII. The family's home in Vancouver, British Columbia was confiscated and sold without their permission, as were their possessions.
They had to weed fields like these shown in the photo three times a year, and then harvest the beets. For five years, through blistering summers and freezing winters, the children, an aunt and an uncle lived in a one-room hut on a remote farm on the Alberta prairie.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Jo's mother and maternal grandmother were visiting relatives in Japan. Jo never heard from her mother again. Not until she was an adult did she learn her mother died after suffering terrible burns when Nagasaki was hit by the atomic bomb. Jo's father had died an early death in the internment hospital during the war.
How does one build a life from the shambles of a family staggering under the anguish of such bitter injustice?
The Canadian government and many citizens refused to acknowledge the wrong done to Japanese Canadians, but Joy realized the silence had gone on long enough.
As Joy reflected on her experiences she began to write her novel Obasan, named for the aunt who cared for her during the internment and her teenage years. She mentioned two ideas in the book, which I believe helped her move beyond the evils that had happened to her.
One she describes through the metaphor of remembering her grandfather’s woodworking. ““I can feel the outline of the plane with a wooden handle which he worked by pulling it towards him. There is a fundamental difference in Japanese workmanship--to pull with control rather than push with force.”
Another insight comes from the Japanese ideograph for “love” which contains the root words heart, hand and action.
The power of story also gives Joy courage. Writing her novel of one woman’s brokenness and journey toward healing brings not only helps mend her own heart, but harnesses the power of narrative to shine a light on history and move people to try and right the wrongs.
At last report, Joy Kogawa was working on a memoir entitled Gently, to Nagasaki. She says this project is the hardest thing she has ever done because she has had to "go to her personal hell" in search of mercy.
Mercy is necessary, Joy says, because so many people in the world live with a constricted fearful heart. They live with a scarcity mindset. Mercy moves us to an abundance mindset. For a longer interview with Joy Kogawa, click here...
I've been struck by so many pieces of this story. I love the idea that action is integral to love. I'm pondering how Joy uses the word "mercy" where others might use "forgiveness." I'm wondering if I can have a mindset of abundance when I start to feel I don't have enough time in my day. What do you think?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this story. Leave you comments below.
Look at the enthusiasm of these students!
They earned a field trip and pizza party for meeting their reading goals over the school year. One young girl more than doubled hers. I knew we were kindred spirits as soon as I heard two kids confess they read when they were supposed to be doing their chores.
I had the privilege and delight of talking to them about writing, and sharing the topics of my books. Their many questions revealed their curiosity and eagerness to learn. I was impressed by their level of knowledge, which, of course, I attribute to the fact they are all terrific readers. But they attend a unique school, as well.
Examining historical photos of miners in the Coeur d'Alene Silver Mining District, the students drew inferences about conditions of the time and place.
At left: The original Old Glory Hole at the Bunker & Sullivan Mine, Kellogg, ID.
These museum quality artifacts I collected while researching Fire in the Hole! help students gain hands-on experience of the time period.
Below students take a turn with hammer and steel to get a feel for how hard miners' worked in the old days before power drills.
These students attend the Continuous Curriculum School in the East Valley School District near Spokane, WA. They explained to me how they only get six weeks off for the summer, but get more breaks during the rest of the school year.
My favorite part of visiting with students this week was hearing about the characters they developed during a short writing assignment. One character was a 6-year-old girl named Hannah, with neon-hair and freckles. Her goal was to pan for fools' gold, and to meet it, she had to climb a mountain and brave a river full of alligators. Now that's a story I want to read!
It was a terrific break from writing to spend a couple hours with these bright, curious and confident young people. It was inspiring how they shared their ideas with such eagerness and enthusiasm. Several weeks ago, I met with a book club of mostly retired women, and is was similarly invigorating. Their life experiences and wisdom felt like a book I'd love to page through.
Let's hear from you! What do you gain from spending time with people outside your own age group.
Whoo-hoo! Sent final edits and photographs off to my editor my upcoming book, a biography on Labor Organizer Fannie Sellins. But a writer's work is never done.
I've been doing more research on the project, as I look ahead to promoting the book when it comes next year.
The past couple days I've researching poverty in America, and decided to share with you some of what I've found.
Fannie lived in the early 1900’s, often called the Gilded Age of American Industrialization. Steel, coal and railroad magnates wore diamonds and lived in mansions. Their workers wore rags and lived in primitive conditions.
Today American children live in a new Gilded Age where a corporate executive can drop $100 on a single restaurant meal, while a single mother cannot afford meat for her children.
The latest United States census report shows one out of seven Americans live below the poverty line.
The number of children in poverty is higher yet. UNICEF reports that since the start of the global recession in 2008, that number has increased in the United States by 32%. Since the recession has leveled off, the number has not dropped.
The National Center for Law and Economic Justice Inc. reports that close to 23% of American children (age 0-18) are poverty-stricken as measured by the U.S. census.
With the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percentage of kids in poverty than America, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNCF).
An article in Forbes Magazine disputes these stats on child poverty. Forbes, a leading source of news for American business and financial people in this country, published the assertion that the statistics were unfairly twisted to suggest the level of poverty in the U.S. is higher than is true.
However, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the number of poor kids (age 0-17) in the U.S. exceeds 20%. The OECD is an international economic organization of 34 countries founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.
There will always be disagreement and debate about how to handle the issue of poverty. But while the posturing continues and the arguments fly, it is the innocent and helpless who suffer. The largest group of impoverished children are age 0-3.
Our children thirst for hope. They hunger for compassion, and for leaders like Fannie to stand up for them. Whether one agrees with her methods or not, Fannie Sellins put her principles and all her resources into action. She did not relent in her efforts to help the poor, even when her life was at risk.
I'm an award-winning author of Children's/YA books and former journalist with a passion for stories about people facing adversity with courage.
My books have been named Notable Social Studies Book for Young People, SPUR Award for Best Juvenile Fiction about the American West, Bank Street College List of Best Children's Books, and NY Public Library Best Books for Teens. My journalistic work has received numerous awards for excellence from the Society of Professional Journalists and two Emmy nominations.