Others see the Constitution as a living document to be interpreted in light of changing thought and circumstance. This view has brought us labor rights and protections, equal rights for people of all colors, persuasions and genders. It's brought us social security, Medicare and, so far, allowed the Affordable Care Act to stand.
To shed more light on the Constitutional debate, I've invited author and friend Cynthia Levinson to tell you about her new kids' book and graphic novel Fault Lines in the Constitution.
One of the things that fascinates me is the discovery of historical details and connections that add layers of meaning to our understanding, and to the stories we tell about the past.
Recently, I learned of the threads that connect Audrey Hepburn and Anne Frank. The girls were born within one month of each other in 1929, Anne in Germany and Audrey in Belgium. Audrey lived with her English-Austrian father in England for several years, but by the time the war broke out, both girls had moved to the Netherlands, where they ended up living just miles apart.
After Nazi Germany invaded Holland in the spring of 1940, Jewish Anne Frank would become known to the world for the diary she wrote while hiding for her life. She would die in a Nazi death camp.
Audrey Hepburn's parents supported Adolf Hitler, her father an agent for the Nazi regime, her mother an admirer of the Fuhrer.
But Audrey joined the resistance and suffered near starvation under German occupation resulting in her often-admired slender figure, famous in the movies Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany's.
At the end of World War II and the Netherlands' Hunger Winter, Audrey, aged sixteen, stood five foot six, but weighed only 88-pounds.
She was one of the first to read Anne Frank's diary, but asked to play in a movie based on Diary of a Young Girl, Audrey declined the role, saying it was too painful.
Her son Luca Dotti told People Magazine his mother knew passages of Anne Frank's diary by heart. “My mother never accepted the simple fact that she got luckier than Anne. She possibly hated herself for that twist of fate.”
Audrey Hepburn's British-Austrian father and Dutch Baroness mother both held fascist sympathies in the 1930s. Ella van Heemstra had a private meeting with Adolf Hitler, where, to the Baroness's bliss, the Nazi leader kissed her hand.
Audrey's father left the family before the war,
and apparently in 1942, her mother had a change of heart about Hitler after the Nazis executed her sister's husband.
Otto van Limburg Stirum was arrested in retaliation for sabotage by the resistance movement. He and four others were driven to a forest, made to dig their own graves and then shot.
Before that, the realities of the war had come gradually to Audrey.
“The first few months we didn’t know quite what had happened … I just went to school,” Hepburn said. “In the schools, the children learned their lessons in arithmetic with problems like this: ‘If 1,000 English bombers attack Berlin and 900 are shot down, how many will return to England?’"
Audrey had started to learn ballet as a young girl in England, and as conditions became strained and dangerous, she turned back to dance to relieve the pressure of Nazi rule.
"When I would go to the station, there were cattle cars packed with Jewish families, with old people and children,” Hepburn once said. “We did not yet know that they were traveling to their deaths. People said they were going to the ‘countryside.’ It was very difficult to understand, for I was a child. All the nightmares of my life are mixed in with those images.”
A quiet, withdrawn child, Audey bloomed on the stage and soon began to perform at illegal events in hidden venues with the windows blacked out. These by-invitation-only zwarte avonden, black evenings, raised money for the Dutch Resistance.
“Guards were posted outside to let us know when Germans approached,” Hepburn would later say. “The best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”
Audrey Hepburn Aides Nazi Resistance
Audrey also helped deliver tiny-sized copies of a resistance newspaper, Oranjekrant.
“I stuffed them in my woolen socks in my wooden shoes, got on my bike and delivered them.” As a teenager, she avoided the suspicions of police and was also able to carry messages and food to Allied pilots shot down over the Netherlands in 1944.
Though Audrey's mother had been known as a lipstick Nazi for being friendly with German soldiers early in the war, she sheltered an English pilot in their home. Luca Dotti wrote that it was a thrilling experience for Audrey. "It was risky, he was a stranger in uniform, a savior, and therefore a knight and hero. [But] if you were caught hiding an enemy, the whole family would be taken away.”
Dutch people in the countryside felt the deprivations of war acutely in the winter of 1944-45, later known as Hongerwinter, Hunger Winter. Families went without heat and electricity and food grew scarce. Audrey sometimes didn't eat for as long as three days, and sometimes subsisted on bread made from brown beans and potatoes.
According to Hepburn's son, “Twenty two thousand people died from hunger in Holland during the final months of World War II, my mother escaping death by a hairbreadth.”
Audrey's town was finally liberated by Allied troops in spring 1945.
Throughout her life, Audrey Hepburn spoke very little about the war years, some say out of fear that her parents' Nazi sympathies might harm her acting career.
A good number of books have told the story of Audrey Hepburn's movie star career, jet-setting life and generosity as an ambassador for UNICEF. But a new biography out this month focuses specifically on her life during World War II.
I wrote about new evidence concerning the arrest of Anne Frank's family here...
Audrey at Home, Memories of Mother's Kitchen by Luca Dotti
Standing Up Against Hate is out in the world!
It's the story of how black women in the U.S. Army changed the course of WWII. It's an honor and a privilege to tell the stories of these courageous women. Here's a sample of feedback I've gotten on the book.
★Starred Review, School Library Connection:
"A nonfiction writer for youth audiences, Farrell settles in to explain with depth and precision the fight black women faced both in and out of the military as World War II surged. Focused specifically on black women in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the book profiles several key figures, including Major Charity Adams who commanded the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
"In addition to the deft writing, images are presented every few pages that reveal a score of brave women who persevered despite suffering discrimination. The women had to proclaim their equality in the face of segregation in the mess hall and in dispatching the unit overseas.
"The text also details how some servicewomen were jailed for disobeying orders or even beaten by civilians while wearing their uniforms. Organized chronologically, the text is accessible for middle school and high school historians who are intrigued by institutional racism or women in the military for research. It profiles milestones in the 6888th’s preparation and deployment, providing a well-researched understanding of the time period for black women in the military.
"The book is a gem that profiles an underrepresented narrative in American history."
Available at the links below or your favorite bookstore.
If only we could bottle it.
She grew up working in the tobacco fields of Wake County, North Carolina. Her parents had a large family, ten children, because sharecropping required many hands and all-consuming labor.
How did Clara Leach make the leap from the Jim Crow south to Brigadier General in the U.S. Army?
She wrote the story of her life after retirement to set the record straight. "I was increasingly encountering people who assumed that I was successful because I was born with a “silver spoon” in my mouth or I just “got lucky.”
At age five Clara cooked and tended younger siblings in a house with no electricity or running water, while her parents and older siblings grew and harvested tobacco for a white landowner.
Soon Clara graduated to field work. That included planting, hoeing, pulling weeds, walking the rows "topping" off the buds to stimulate growth, and picking worms off the leaves and squishing them.
"Growing tobacco...is a very difficult crop...labor intensive," Clara says. "So my father and mother had ten children, and we were all employed full time on that farm in tobacco."
Photo: The daughter of an African American sharecropper at work in a tobacco field in Wake County, North Carolina. Credit: Dorothea Lange, July 1939.
Clara's parents believed in education as well as hard work. And though she missed a lot of school due to farm work, Clara skipped two grades and graduated at sixteen, salutatorian of her class.
The painful experience of prejudice at her segregated school in Wake County launched the attitude that would carry Clara from the soil of North Carolina to the halls of the Pentagon.
"Many members of the African-American community considered dark skin ugly. Unattractive. Undesirable. That message came across loud and clear in terms of which students were favored by teachers, and by other students," Clara says. "When I raised my hand, the teacher would never call on me."
"Instead, a kid with straight hair and fair skin always got picked. Some of them were really smart, but so was I. It was all part of a warped value system that some black people still embrace today-the closer you are to being white, the better off and more beautiful you are."
Clara's mother told her beauty was skin deep and that what others thought of her didn't matter. "It's what you think of yourself that matters," she said. It was a good lesson but it didn't take away the sting of being passed over.
Clara made a decision.
Elixir for success:
"I spent a lot of time getting even smarter, because I knew knowledge could never be snatched from me, regardless of whether I was high yellow or black as midnight," says Clara. Those early snubs and slights I experienced due to skin color further motivated me to excel. They lit a fire under me that drove me to succeed not just at academics, but at whatever endeavor I tackled."
She went college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to study nursing. There Clara took part in the the famous Greensboro sit-ins at the Woolworth's lunch counter.
She told an interviewer for the Women Veterans Historical Project about her experience with non-violent protest. "When people push you, spit on you, curse you and do those kinds of things, it’s very difficult not to raise your hand. But in reality, when you think about it, it’s quite a powerful thing to be able to sit and do nothing while people do that."
To fund her last two years of college, Clara signed up for the Army Student Nurse Program scholarship. After graduation in 1961. she entered the U.S. Army Nurse Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Her values of hard work and a positive attitude continued to serve her well as she met obstacles as a woman and a black in the army.
"Obstacles are not really there to stop one’s progress. They are really opportunities for us to decide how we will overcome them to reach our goals. If we keep the goal in mind, then we can decide if we will go over, under, around or through the obstacle to accomplish it."
In 1965, Clara became a medical-surgical nursing instructor at Fort Sam Houston where she became the first woman in the army to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge. She continued to rise in the ranks and continue her education, the first nurse corps officer to graduate from the Army War College and the first woman to earn a Master’s Degree in military arts and sciences from the Army’s Command and General Staff College.
Assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Clara trained a generation of nurses and then became the first African American to serve as vice president and chief of the department of nursing at the hospital. In 1987 she was promoted to Brigadier General and named Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and Chief of Army medical personnel.
The list of Clara Leach Adams-Enders' accomplishments in the army is long and impressive, including formal distinctions like the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and informal such as recruiting minority student nurses at Walter Reed.
She led the Army Nurse Corps through two major combat operations, Just Cause and Desert Shield/Storm. Clara is also known for her remarkable warmth and humility.
Retiring after a 34-year career in the army, she wrote a book about her life to inspire others, My Rise to the Stars: How a Sharecropper's Daughter Became an Army General. She also runs a management consulting firm Cape Incorporated with the mission of helping organizations manage their people with care and enthusiasm.
With hard work, education and the right attitude, Clara Leach Adams-Ender made the journey from sharecropper's daughter to the highest ranks of the U.S. Army. Her success also stands on the shoulders of those who trod this path before her. Thousands of African American women overcame obstacles to serve with distinction in the U.S. Army during WWII. Read their story in Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.