Post updated February 1, 2019
Black History Month is a wonderful time in February (though it shouldn’t be the only time) for people to increase their knowledge and awareness of the significant and ongoing contributions African-Americans have made to American society and its culture.
Unfortunately, celebration of the month has become stuck in the mud topic-wise for quite some time. The same historical facts and biographies are trotted out time and again ad nauseam. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X. The Civil War. Thurgood Marshall. School Desegregation. Frederick Douglas. The Voting Rights Act. Rosa Parks. Slavery. I Have A Dream.
As a result and not surprisingly, important African-American figures, historical events, work and legislation that have had an impact on Black Americans and the United States have become muted or an afterthought.
Of course there will always be those, young or old, who learn something new during the month which will resonate with them. However, there are others who find Black History Month (BHM) no longer interesting because for them it has turned into a form of ’28 Days of Trivia’ instead of it being a deeper dive into the ‘Black History’ knowledge pool.
For those individuals who need a history recharge or just want to learn something new, YETBW is here for you. Below is a list of articles, audio/interviews, books, documentaries and movies that is off-the-Black-History-Month-beaten-path. Learn and enjoy – not just during the month of February.
AUDIO, VIDEO AND MULTIMEDIA
WWII Black Soldiers In Europe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed several U.S. black servicemen who served throughout Europe during World War II. The soldiers discuss their experiences dealing with racism from American white soldiers and those soldiers who served under Nazi Germany. As historian Stephen Ambrose has said “[Black] soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army…[t]he irony did not go unnoticed.” Besides instances of racial conflict, you also hear about the soldiers’ combat experience, serving under General Patton, the impact of seeing German labor and concentration camps and even the mundane such as trying to line up a date. More than half a million Black Americans served overseas in various parts of Europe but their stories aren’t mentioned as much as they should be in WWII lore. Hearing these oral histories is more than worthwhile and keeps their history alive.
‘I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.’ Yes, it’s a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s one that is shamefully overlooked. He made this speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. It was also on the night before he was assassinated. It is such a personal and powerful speech; more like a sermon. It’s not uplifting and hopeful like his most famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’ which he gave in 1963. By 1968 he was on a different path and you can hear it in the words and tone of this speech. He is contemplative and tired; not sure how long he has to keep fighting, but he hasn’t laid down his gloves. The words in the last part of the speech are eery in hindsight, yet joyful given the fact that he was speaking on the eve of his death. When he loudly proclaims “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” it will make your hair stand on end.
Voices From the Days of Slavery. During Black History Month you hear about the topic of slavery, but you don’t hear much from or about the people who actually lived it. The Library of Congress’ ‘Voices From the Days of Slavery has “almost seven hours of recorded interviews [that] took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.” Unfortunately, the quality isn’t top-notch, but it’s still worth a listen. Not everyday you get a chance to listen to people who lived through one of the harshest and inglorious periods of American history.
BOOKS AND ARTICLES
Bloods: Black Veterans of Vietnam War: An Oral History. Unfortunately, the history of Black Veterans is woefully minimal and marginalized, as if they weren’t part of America’s military or war efforts. The twenty veterans in this book (from private first class to colonels, poor to middle-class, all parts of the U.S.) tell their stories of what is was like fighting in Vietnam and the impact it has had on them. You also hear about how they dealt with being a Black American in the U.S. military while living in a country that was going through major racial and cultural upheaval. You can feel their pride, pain, confusion, cynicism and disillusionment concerning the war and themselves. Their stories and experiences are sad, dark, humorous, violent, insightful, and poignant. Terry did an amazing job of putting these stories together without getting in the way of the storytellers. This book is a classic and will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
Dignity in Death for Black Families at a Brooklyn Funeral Home. This article encompasses so much, so well. Readers will learn about the important role black funeral homes have played in the Black Community through the eyes and work of the two women who manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay understand the seriousness of their work, its legacy and the emotions that come with it while doing their best to honor the dead and their loved ones. It is a wonderful, informative and heartfelt piece. Simply put, it is more than just about the management of a black funeral home.
The Bluest Eye. Morrison has written other well-known books, but this Nobel Prize-winning title shows her at her writing best. It’s the story about an 11-year-old African-American girl named Pecola, growing up in 1940s Ohio who feels inferior because of her skin and eye color. She’s constantly being told she’s ‘ugly’ so she keeps wishing she had blue eyes so that she would be deemed worthy. Controversy has followed this book since its 1970 publication because it deals with racism, pedophilia and rape, all experienced by the main character. The story isn’t just about Pecola, but also her parents – their marital fights, their frustrations living in a mostly white community; her dad’s volatility, her mom working as a servant to a white family. Sometimes the various stories are told matter-of-factly, in a childish tone or in a harsh, painful or surreal manner. Morrison deals with the uncomfortable issues surrounding black vs. white beauty and the bitter reality of Black Americans in early/mid-twentieth century America. It’s a complex book that can be a challenge to read, but it’s worth the effort.
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography. Ralph Abernathy played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in that he worked closely with Dr. King and was viewed as his successor after King’s death. Yet Abernathy, like many others involved with Dr. King saw their involvement in the Movement overlooked and sometimes forgotten. When this autobiography was originally published in 1989 many African-Americans, Black leaders and other activists were apoplectic about Abernathy airing Dr. King’s ‘dirty laundry’ (i.e., he regularly cheated on his wife, used expletives, wasn’t always a nice person, FBI was spying on him) instead of simply writing about King’s humanity and his tireless civil rights work. Many thought Abernathy had an ax to grind; that he was finally showing his jealousy about King and bitterness over his limited post-Movement success. Maybe some or all of the accusations are true, but this book is still a must-read in that you get an insider view, warts and all, about the people within King’s circle, the actions and decision-making process of other well-known black leaders, the roles played by politicians, governmental actions and the struggles and triumphs of the Movement. As a result of this book future publications on King and the Civil Rights Movement stepped back from the deification of both by providing more insight than reflexive accolades, which is a good thing.
Kindred is the kind of book that will resonate with you long after you’ve read it. Imagine being a black woman in 1976, living in California and about to celebrate your 26th birthday with your new husband when suddenly you’re away pulled away through time and end-up on a pre-Civil War southern plantation where slavery is alive and well? Though time travel is somewhat of a stereotypical science-fiction trope, Butler uses it as a tool, not as a story gimmick. As Dana tries to survive in the slave era you learn about what it meant to be a slave: the fear, the beatings, the rapes, the humiliations – of being seen and treated as being not human. Butler makes you feel everything that Dana is thinking as she tries to deal with the impact of moving between time-periods at a moment’s notice – wondering how long she will be there upon each ‘visit’ and if/when she will ever return home. Octavia E. Butler has written other books and has been called the ‘grand dame of science fiction,’ but the quiet intensity of Kindred is her crowning achievement and should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ list.
‘The Case for Reparations‘ by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a ten-part, heartbreaking magnum opus of an essay about why African-Americans should receive reparations from the United States. Coates argument is not based on slavery (which he doesn’t discuss as much given the article’s title) nor on how much money is ‘owed’ to Black Americans (which isn’t mentioned) but the long, cumulative effect of discrimination on generations of African-Americans. The article makes it case by interweaving the generational story of African-Americans and the obstacles they’ve faced (white supremacy, inequality, governmental discrimination) by way of Clyde Ross, a sharecropper’s son who escaped the Jim Crow South who ended up in Chicago fighting for black homeowners. Coates 15,000 word piece is dense in that you might find yourself having to revisit it after the first read, because there is so much interesting information, history and emotion in the piece. Whether you’re an opponent or proponent of reparations this article will give you a better and more complete understanding of the reparations argument.
DOCUMENTARIES, MOVIES, SHOWS AND PROGRAMS
Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. The title of this documentary sadly sums up Bayard Rustin‘s life as a key member of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides being the chief organizer of the March on Washington and a major influence on CORE and SNCC activists he was also a leader in other movements such as socialism, non-violence and gay rights. It was that latter stance and the fact that he was gay that has kept Rustin out of most history books. Brother Outsider rectifies that mistake by giving viewers the opportunity to learn about a major civil rights player who was marginalized by most of the black civil rights community though they were more than willing to make use of his knowledge and planning skills. In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House Press Release regarding Rustin’s award said he was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.” Rustin should be more than just a historical footnote in the fight for civil rights and social justice.
Eyes On the Prize. This multi-episode documentary, originally aired on PBS in 1987 is considered the seminal documentary on the Civil Rights Movement in America. It’s not exactly off-the-beaten-path as it pertains to this article. However, as time has passed, it has become somewhat overlooked because it wasn’t available for years (1993-2006) due to copyright issues. Eyes On the Prize, as described by PBS, tells the story of The Movement [t]hrough contemporary interviews and historical footage [as] the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985. Series topics range from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954 to the Voting Rights Act in 1965; from community power in schools to ‘Black Power’ in the streets; from early acts of individual courage through to the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions.” Words do not do this series justice in regards to how pivotal, informative and heart-breaking this series is in describing and showing how Black Americans (and their allies) fought for their personhood and legal rights to be treated fairly and equally in a nation that was resistant to recognizing their humanity. Note: All 14 episodes are available here via YouTube. Watch them while you can before they’re taken down.
Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Johnson didn’t act the way black people were supposed to act in the early part of the twentieth century. He didn’t know his ‘place’ and he eventually paid the price for it. But at one point in time Johnson was the most fierce and dominant boxer that America had ever seen. He was the first African-American heavyweight champion who annihilated black and white opponents, the latter of which caused major debates amongst whites regarding black superiority and led to race riots. Add to that his unrepentant flashing of his success and riches while cutting a sexual and marital swath through a string of white women, Johnson was too much for many whites and blacks to handle. This documentary (based on the same-titled book by Geoffrey C. Ward) really digs into Johnson’s personal and professional history via archival film, photographs and interview with boxing experts. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film. Note: I also recommend ‘The Great White Hope‘ (1970) starring James Earl Jones as Jack Jefferson (obviously based on Johnson). Jones is fierce as Jefferson and doesn’t pull any punches (pun intended) in showing us Johnson’s anger, brutishness, hurts of what it was like to be a feared and successful black man and athlete in early 20th Century America. You can watch it here on YouTube.
The Boondocks ‘Return of the King’ When ‘Boondocks,’ an animated show on the Cartoon Network, first broadcast ‘Return of the King’ the outrage came high and fast (though it did end-up winning the prestigious Peabody Award for ‘Best Storytelling‘). Mainly because Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator and writer had Dr. King dropping the n-word several times while raging against ‘shiftless Negroes.’ But the brouhaha obscured what the episode was really about – the reimagining of history. What if Dr. King wasn’t assassinated in 1968? What if he had just been shot; remained in a coma for 32 years and woke-up in 2000 America? The episode shows an aged King trying to adjust to the new media and culture that is just too loud and fast for him. Huey Freeman, Boondock’s 10-year old, socially-conscious main character sees King’s return as an opportunity for African-Americans to start a new revolution, but King and Huey soon realize that they have their work cut out for them. The episode is full of cynicism, along with anger, disgust and sadness, yet still hopeful. It is an enlightening, ballsy and fierce take on a historical icon and U.S. and African-American culture.
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Pittman is not an actual person nor was she based on a historical figure. She is the 110-year old black woman and protagonist in Ernest J. Gaines 1971 novel which was the basis for the same-titled movie. This 1974 television movie (made before the miniseries ‘Roots’) was ground-breaking in that it showed many facets of the African-American experience that was rarely seen in movies or on television, such as slavery, plantation life, lynchings and poverty. The viewer sees and hears about Pittman’s life as a slave girl during the Civil War era and up to and beyond the Civil Rights Movement. We also see America grappling with its racial, cultural and military wars amongst its black and white citizens. It’s all done through the eyes and narration of an elderly woman who lets us know that she has seen, battled and lived a lot over her many decades. Cicely Tyson as Jane Pittman is simply fantastic in the film. She brings Pittman to life, so it’s understandable that people over the years have taken the movie and book title seriously and thought Pittman was a real person. The movie isn’t an official autobiography, but it is a biography of America’s history that is definitely worth seeing. Note: The movie can be viewed in its entirety online here via YouTube.
Cooley High. Teen movies have been around for decades, but most film buffs say the genre really started with American Graffiti (1973). Since then Hollywood has been producing teen movies like they’re going out of style. Unfortunately movies about black teens are still MIA, which is what makes ‘Cooley High’ (1975) still so special forty years later. Plainly, it is just a movie about black high school students in Chicago during the 1960s or as its screenwriter Eric Monte described it “a movie without a plot.” It may not have a storyline but a lot happens in the film such as dating woes, failing grades, carjacking, drugs and the joys of cutting class along with a killer Motown soundtrack. The teens in the film were the usual suspects: jocks, jokesters, nerds, pretty girls and bullies but instead of it taking place in white suburbia the setting was south side Chicago in the rough Cabrini-Green public housing projects. It’s considered a black cinema classic, but it also ranks up there as one of the best high school movies.
A Soldier’s Story. This 1984 movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Off-Broadway play, a tone and feel which shows up in the film on occasion. There a lot of soon-to-be-well-known actors (Howard Rollins, Jr., Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier) along with seasoned broadway veterans (Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, Scott Paulin). However, its the work of Rollins, Washington and Caesar (nominated for Best Supporting Oscar for his role) that creates the foundation for the film. The plot centers around a black officer (Rollins) who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant who was killed during the end of World War II. The film chronicles the racism and Jim Crow South that the black military men have to deal with on and off the army base, but also the intra-racism that they have amongst themselves based on speech, education, class and geography. A provocative film set inside a whodunnit scenario with a strong cast.
Do you have any off-the-beaten-path suggestions (books, movies, programs, etc.) regarding Black History and/or African-American culture that are interesting, informative or note-worthy? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment section.
As my 11-year old son prepared for his first day as a sixth grader, I had begun to think about what I’ve done as a parent to get him to this stage. Though I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, I can’t help but think of my parental ups and downs as home runs, doubles, foul balls or woeful strike outs. Luckily I’ve had more successes than failures.
There have been prospective, new and overwhelmed parents who have asked me for general parental advice, like how to handle situation X or prevent incident Y from happening again.
I never attempt to pass myself off as a child psychologist or a licensed counselor when giving advice. Furthermore, I don’t pretend to be the Martha Stewart of parenting and have found those who act as such arrogant and pretentious. I always listen closely before I dole out advice nor do I take umbrage if it’s not followed.
Though my journey as a parent is not complete, there are rules that I have discovered and followed that have served me well, which I’ve passed on to others.
So here are my ‘Top 10’ Parenting Tips that have helped make my preteen son a responsible, observant and thoughtful individual (when he’s not driving me semi-bonkers by bouncing between ages 7-17 without giving me prior notice):
1. Make sure your child knows he/she will face consequences for their actions, no exceptions. If your child figures out that you’re what I define as a ‘serial warner’ (i.e. someone who gives their child constant and repetitive warnings with little or no follow through on their ‘threats’) then you’re setting yourself up to be challenged by your child regarding every request or demand you make of them. The last time I’ve had a major challenge from my son was when he was 5 years old. He was giving me a lot of backtalk because he thought it was funny. I wasn’t sure if the backtalk was just a phase or something that would become a bad habit, therefore I decided to play things by ear. Unfortunately, it only got worse, which is when I threw down the hammer. I told him that if he did it one more time I was going to take away all his toys for a week. He didn’t believe me so he ended up watching me bag up all of his toys and remove them from his room. Afterwards I taped a calendar to his door with a big ‘X’ over every day he would be without his toys. He was stunned. Sometimes he would sit on his bed and just stare at his empty floor. When the seven days were up I returned his toys without saying a word. Drastic? Yes. Successful? Most definitely. He finally learned what consequences meant and that I meant what I said, which improved our relationship significantly.
2. Show respect for the body and its bodily functions. I cringe whenever I hear parents and their kids use cute nicknames for body parts such as calling a penis a ‘wee wee’ or a vagina ‘little girl parts.’ How are you going to teach your child to respect their body and the bodies of others if you mystify it so much that they inadvertently don’t value its importance? I’m not saying that you should use the word ‘excrement’ or ‘sh*t’ instead of ‘taking number two.’ However, using proper names for body parts, explaining how they work and the similarities and differences between the male and female anatomy will go a long way in helping your child understand proper and improper body boundaries and most importantly his/her sexuality when the time comes.
3. Don’t run from questions because you feel that your child isn’t ready for the answer or you didn’t see it coming. Most of the times it seems parents are the ones who don’t want to deal with a question. I ended up having my first serious talk about sexuality with my son when he was eight-years old. I was watching a Boondocks episode when two male rappers/characters on the show admitted they were attracted to each other and started kissing. My son happened to walk in on the episode and asked ‘Why are those guys kissing?’ I could’ve said something to the effect of ‘I’ll talk to you later about it’ or ‘you’re too young right now for that conversation’ but I didn’t. I somehow knew that this ‘talk’ was going to happen now so I answered his question, which led to other questions and discussions about heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender relations. As a result he is receptive to all forms of expressed affection and to those who are part of the LGBT community. Most importantly, my son realized that he could ask me anything without being prejudged or shutdown. I’m not advocating that all parents should be as forthcoming because obviously each child’s emotional maturity is different. However, before you go into deflect mode on topic X make sure you feel it’s necessary and not because you simply don’t want to deal with the topic yet. Remember – it’s not about you – it’s about your child.
4. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. This lyric from Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler’ song is also apropos when dealing with your child. You have to figure out what battles are worth fighting. Are you trying to teach your child a lesson or are you just standing your ground to prove you’re the one in charge? For example, when my son hit fourth grade we used to battle over what he would wear to school. I would try to make sure that he went through most of his wardrobe so that he wasn’t wearing the same combinations all the time or clothing combo nightmares. We locked horns regularly which started to drive my husband up a wall. I eventually realized that by forcing my son to wear what I picked out put us both in a bad mood. We eventually came to a compromise where he could pick out what he wanted, but if his mom and dad didn’t like his wardrobe selection he had to change. In this instance, my decision to ‘fold’ made things better for mom, dad and son. As a parent you will find yourself having to re-learn this lesson with your child so don’t be surprised that you will be traveling this road again several more times.
5. Sometimes you have to let your child struggle in order for them to learn how to accomplish things on their own. As a parent you want to help your child at all times, especially when they’re young. But at some point you have to let them figure things out on their own, even when they’re not successful at it (ideally without allowing it to turn into a meltdown). Whether it’s looking up a word in a dictionary; opening a container or getting dressed. It’ll teach them to keep trying instead of immediately running to you or others for help.
6. Don’t overschedule your child with activities. We all want to keep our kids active so that they remain physically and emotionally healthy and hopefully have a good time. But think about the many things your child does on a regular basis: school, homework, childcare, extracurricular activities, hanging out with family and friends, tutoring, afterschool clubs and much more. Your child has a very busy life. But just like adults, kids need downtime as well. Don’t look at it from the viewpoint of you being a bad parent for allowing your child to occasionally to sleep in late on weekends, chill out in his/her room or watch television zonked in the family room. Look at it as allowing them time to rest, which they will always need.
7. It’s not too early to assign chores/responsibilities to your child. By the time I was twelve I was assigned several chores, including cleaning the bathroom. I’m not one of those old-school parents where I think today’s children are completely infantilized. However, I do think that parents are waiting too late to assign their kids regular chores to do. As a result, their child doesn’t handle responsibilities well – or worse, you end up doing it yourself. Just start small such as having them cleaning their room, helping to unload/reload the dishwasher, putting their dirty clothes in the laundry bin, taking out the garbage or placing dishes in the sink after dinner. This will get them in the habit of doing things for themselves without prompting from their parent(s).
8. Sleepovers and playdates are great for children and parents. When you have your child’s friend over for a playdate/hangout or sleepover it’s a win-win for the child and the parent. Your child has someone to play with, and it gives you time to do other things. If your child goes over to someone else’s home then you have that much needed quiet time for yourself or with your significant other. Therefore strive hard to connect with the family of your child’s close friend(s) so that you both get in the habit of having hangouts and sleepovers at each other’s homes. Besides it being a good idea for your child’s social and emotional development, it will save you a lot of money on babysitters.
9. Do your best not to fall into ‘assigned’ parenting roles. This is sometimes hard to do. Depending on the set-up of how your family works (i.e. single parent, working parent with stay-at-home parent), this can dictate the parental dynamics of how you interact with your child. Nevertheless, don’t allow how you interact with your child to be determined by your gender, your preferred interests or disciplinary ideology. You don’t want to be viewed as the no-fun, no playtime, always-make-me-do-stuff-I-don’t-want-to-do or ‘drill sergeant’ parent. Mix-up your roles from time to time; do things that you don’t normally do with your child so that he/she sees you in different a light. For example, if you’re the ‘homework parent,’ maybe next time when you go to the park you should seriously hit the jungle gym with your kid. If you’re the ‘basketball coach,’ take a detour and hang out at the library with your kid on occasion. Going outside the box a bit will bring more parental balance in a two-parent household. And for single parents, your child will be more aware and hopefully appreciative of the many hats that you can and do wear.
10. Don’t inadvertently put them in a bubble in your effort to protect them from what’s happening in the world. As a parent you don’t want your child to experience any bad feelings (i.e fear, hurt, pain, embarrassment, etc.) until they’re able to handle them. But sometimes things don’t work out that way, so you have to prepare them to handle these emotions when that time comes. My husband and I have had talks with our son about life and death; we’ve also talked to him about racism/racial bias, driving while black, and police brutality because we know that it may be just a matter of time when he will have to deal with these issues as an African-American male. He has seen videos, news, movies and documentaries about the black experience in America (Roots, Fruitvale Station, Central Park Five case, civil rights movement, death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, etc.) to help him understand his history better. If I had a daughter I would’ve added gender bias to the conversation as well. Kids need to know that the world isn’t always so wonderful, which is possible to do without scarring them. Start slowly by picking a movie or program for you to watch together and make sure to allot time afterwards to discuss it with them, to answer any questions they may have. It’ll be a teachable, bonding moment for both of you.
Not all children are alike so don’t push them down a path that they’re not ready to take. However, don’t hold them back just because you’re not ready to take that journey with them. Yes, the advice sounds simple, but following through on it will be hard. You must always keep in mind that your job as a parent is to help your child grow so that he/she is eventually able to take care of themselves.
Anything less than that then you’re not doing the one job you should be doing as a parent.
Suggested Parent Resources:
Mr Nussbaum: A wonderful website has extensive reading, math, social studies and science tools for grades K-8 that are fun and challenging. Lessons can be done individually by the child or in concert with a parent.
Khan Academy: If you find yourself flummoxed by math, science, history or any other academic questions that your child asks you this is the site for both of you. It’s a free site full of straight-forward information (standard videos, interactive videos, etc.) for students, parents, teachers or anyone who wants to learn.
Library of Congress: Their ‘Kids and Families’ page is chockfull of online information on books, history, geography, music and much more.
Scholastic’s Parent and Child’s 100 Greatest Books: List contains classics and other well-known books grouped by age and genres.
50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know: Books for ages preschool to twelve that have main characters who are people of color.
YouTube: A great place to see and hear music (full albums, videos, etc.) which you can share with your child. A lot of the music downloads have lyrics to them to aid in any sing-along efforts. It’s a fun, easy and informative way to spend time with your child while sharing and learning about a wide variety of music genres.
Common Sense Media Best Documentaries: Good list of documentaries that are educational, uplifting, serious and funny and can be viewed by the entire family.
PBS American Experience: Great learning tool for kids in that its documentaries are straightforward and handle sensitive material in an appropriate manner.
Updated November 16, 2018
Since the dawn of the Republic (well maybe not that far back) letter grades have been the standard in most public and private schools in the United States. Generations of students grew up with the A-E (or A-D and an F) grading system to help them determine how well they were doing in school. It was a simple, comprehensible but exacting way for parents, teachers and school administrators to track a student’s academic progress (or lack thereof); to determine their strengths and areas in need of improvement.
Sadly, school districts across the nation have been dumping its standard letter grading system for its elementary and/or middle schools like a first wife whose husband traded her in for a newer model due to a midlife crisis. In the case for Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), in 2013 its elementary school grading system was replaced with the convoluted ES-P-I-N-M-NEP version (see chart).
The new grading system is part of the implementation of Montgomery County’s Curriculum 2.0 – based on the Common Core education standards. (Note: MCPS began rolling out the new curriculum on a grade-by-grade basis in 2009-2010 with some kindergarten classrooms at participating Curriculum 2.0 pilot schools). At the start of the 2014-2015 school year, grades K-6 will use Curriculum 2.0 and grades 7-12 will continue with its previous MCPS standard curriculum (AKA ‘Curriculum 1.0′ ). Therefore, by Fall 2020 Curriculum 2.0 will be used by grades K-12 in Montgomery County.
MCPS’ adoption of its version of the Common Core curriculum hasn’t phased most Montgomery County parents. It’s the new K-5 grading system – designed by MCPS – to work with the new curriculum to better measure elementary students’ knowledge and academic aptitude that has parents flummoxed.
Luckily for us (and other 5th grade students and their families at our former elementary school) we only had to deal with this hair-brained grading system for one year (2013-2014) since MCPS will still use the A-E grading system for its 6-12th grade students. But there will be many current elementary school parents and families with incoming kindergarten students who will be tortured for several years trying to figure out MCPS’ elementary school grading system, that is, if they ever do.
New Curriculum = New Grades = Confusion
In June 2013, our son’s elementary school administration gave its rising 5th grade parents an overview of Curriculum 2.0 and the new grading system. The parents didn’t have questions about the grading system, but some were up in arms over the elimination of ‘gifted/accelerated’ classrooms (not surprising since helicopter parents have been jockeying for better placement for their kids since they were fetuses).
My husband and I weren’t pleased with the new curriculum. We definitely weren’t thrilled with the new grading system, but decided to abstain from an opinion until we had an opportunity to see both in practice.
When my son started his 5th grade year in Fall 2013, I immediately noticed the lack of grades on returned assignments. As to be expected we weren’t seeing the A-E grades, but we also weren’t consistently seeing the new grades (ES-P-I-N) either. Grades on assignments were numerical in nature, for example “8/10” or “15/20” based on the number of questions the student was asked (e.g., ’10’) and problems that the student solved/answered correctly (e.g., ‘8’). Since the fifth grade teachers were learning and incorporating the new grading system and Curriculum 2.0 simultaneously, I wasn’t surprised by the primary usage of numerical grades. However, when I spoke with parents with children in other grades at our elementary school and at others schools in Montgomery County, I discovered this same numerical grading system/method was being used in their child(ren)’s classrooms as well.
Our son knew what the new grades meant (e.g., ES = exceptional, P = proficient, etc.), but we were pretty sure that he didn’t truly understand how MCPS interpreted the grades. As a result, my husband and I got into the habit of translating his numerical grades into the standard A-E letter grading system and the new grading system so that our son would have a more solid understanding of his academic progress.
For many parents, the new grading system primarily existed on their child(ren)’s report cards for them to attempt to decipher, with one Montgomery County parent Chuck Thomas wondering if ‘ES’ stood for “elusive secret.” Was this what MCPS had in mind for its state-of-the-art-allegedly-more-honest-and-accurate new grading system?
Old Grades vs. New Grades
So, what was wrong with the A-E grades? According to Ebony Langford-Brown, MCPS’ Director of Elementary Instruction and Achievement it’s because when students used to get an ‘A’ grade it was for “[a recollection] of facts” but that the new grading system now shows that “proficiency means that [a student] can use the facts in some way and use them differently — synthesizing, analyzing and making value judgments.”
Yet, if MCPS is so gung-ho about the new grading system and curriculum why haven’t they implemented both for all MCPS students? Why the grade-by-grade roll-out? MCPS knew that implementing a new curriculum and grading system throughout grades K-12 would cause a serious parental riot, especially among high school parents. Could you imagine high school kids trying to explain an ES-P-I-N transcript to potential college recruiters? Middle school parents wouldn’t be too pleased with the change either given their children would be entering the pivotal high school grade years.
As a result, MCPS decided it would be easier to take a hit to the face than a kick in the balls (metaphorically speaking), which is why they ended-up only using elementary school students and their parents as guinea pigs for its new curriculum and grading system. Maybe they thought elementary school parents would be more receptive (nee malleable) to its new curriculum and grading system. If things worked out then MCPS would have data to support its curriculum and grade system changes. If it doesn’t do well then they’ve only caused academic and administrative problems for elementary schools and their students respectively. No big deal.
Who really is profiting from the new grading system?
If you answered ‘students’ then you’re either a strong Common Core Curriculum supporter, an idealistic person or a resident of fantasyland. The people (ahem ‘company’) that are truly benefiting from the new grading system is the Pearson Company – Montgomery County Public School System’s official testing company. Education Week describes Pearson as an “education provider with worldwide reach” who “[develops] test-items, test delivery, reporting of results, and analysis of student performance for a group of states that are part of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, one of two main consortia designing tests linked to the common-core standards.”
If MCPS intends to spread Curriculum 2.0 throughout all grades then it will need a proper testing procedure to accurately capture a student’s progress with its new curriculum, which teachers will record via the ES-P-I-N and A-E grading system. Since Maryland is now a PARCC state (one of 14 states and the District of Columbia) and Pearson is a PARCC test provider, who else but Pearson are Montgomery County and Maryland State Departments of Education going to use for their testing needs? Though Erick Lang, MCPS Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instructional Programming would probably beg to differ, the decision was a fait accompli. He said that MCPS selected Pearson for the following reasons:
[it] would be mutually beneficial to collaborate on the development of this unique curriculum. The partnership, and the resulting resources, provided MCPS with the opportunity to expand [its] staff, resulting in a more robust curriculum, including more assessments and online professional development. (EdTechDigest.com, Jan. 31, 2013)
Maybe Pearson was interested in working with MCPS, but I’m sure the fact that grades K-5 (Curriculum 2.0 users) and 6-12 (non 2.0 users) MCPS students will be tested using PARCC played a significant financial part in Pearson’s desire to saddle-up with MCPS, the 17th largest school system in the United States with over 150,000 students.
It will be after 2020 when MCPS will be able to assess whether it’s new curriculum has been a good thing for Montgomery County. Furthermore, the elementary school’s new grading system, which generally has not been well-received, will be lucky to last five years.
Whether you’re a proponent or opponent of the Curriculum 2.0 and/or the ES-P-I-N grading system, it’s hard to believe that MCPS truly stands behind either given the piecemeal way both have been installed. Nevertheless it appears MCPS’ Curriculum 2.0 is here to stay and elementary school students, parents, teachers and administrators will continue to be MCPS’ test subjects for the immediate future.
On this issue, the Montgomery County Public School System deserves an ‘N’ for execution (that’s a ‘D’ to everyone else).
–(February 3, 2015) Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr announced his resignation. His resignation was effective February 16, 2015.
–(March 8, 2016) Montgomery County Public Schools hires Jack R. Smith as its new superintendent. Smith has a four-year contract with MCPS.
–(September 2017) “Montgomery County school officials are switching back to a traditional grading scale for most elementary school students after four years of report card confusion.”
–(May 2018) “Potential conflict of interest derails curriculum rollout in Md. school system” MCPS put a ‘hold’ on its search to “overhaul its classroom curriculum” due to its concern about a potential conflict of interest. Two of its soon-to-be retiring employees (one of them being Erick Lang, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction programs) have been involved in the ‘new curriculum’ selection search though their future employer is one of the vendors/companies who are under consideration by MCPS.
–(August 2018) “Montgomery County Public Schools has renewed its request for bids for new instructional materials for English and Math to replace Curriculum 2.0 in elementary and middle schools and expects to present the school board with options by the end of the year.”
Notes: 1) The ‘If letter grades were good enough for Jesus’ title is a paraphrase of the quote “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas”, often credited to James Ferguson (governor of Texas) who in 1917, allegedly said those famous words in reference to the issue of bilingualism in Texas schools. 2) I want to thank Donald Earl Collins for providing me with feedback and clarity concerning MCPS’ educational policies.
I normally don’t read the Education Section on many mainstream news sites because the articles are anemic and pro forma at best. Unfortunately, the ‘education news beat’ has taken a major hit as newspapers have cut staff and costs to save money.
Yet, I found myself perusing the education news section on the Huffington Post website. The article “Teen Pregnancy Study: Students Need Better School Support” (11/26/2012) caught my eye, because the topic of ‘teen pregnancy’ and ‘education’ doesn’t pop up much in the news cycle. Also because the article ludicrously states the obvious though a good portion of America’s public education system would beg to differ. Below is an excerpt from the article discussing a teen mom’s plight and how schools have dealt with the issue of teen moms:
When 15-year-old Kali Gonzalez became pregnant, the honors student considered transferring to an alternative school. She worried teachers would harass her for missing class because of doctor’s appointments and morning sickness. A guidance counselor urged Gonzalez not to, saying that could lower her standards. Instead, her counselor set up a meeting with teachers at her St. Augustine high school to confirm she could make up missed assignments, eat in class and use the restroom whenever she needed. Gonzalez, who is now 18, kept an A-average while pregnant. She capitalized on an online school program for parenting students so she could stay home and take care of her baby during her junior year. She returned to school her senior year and graduated with honors in May. But Gonzalez is a rare example of success among pregnant students. Schools across the country are divided over how to handle them, with some schools kicking them out or penalizing students for pregnancy-related absences. And many schools say they can’t afford costly support programs, including tutoring, child care and transportation for teens who may live just a few miles from school but still too far to walk while pregnant or with a small child.
Though we live in a more enlightened age, the stigma of teen pregnancy (one of the scarlet letters of the teen set) still exists. Parents/soon-to-be grandparents are pissed that their daughter is pregnant or that that their son ‘knocked someone up.’ Pregnant girls feel shocked and ashamed and soon-to-be teen fathers are stunned, depressed or angry.
Schools, parents, friends, doctors, non-profits, other family members, etc. can preach abstinence and safe-sex until they’re blue-in-the-face. It doesn’t change the fact that teens are still having babies.
Ostracizing teen moms to special schools for ‘girls in their condition’ is not the answer. Also, schools need to stop equating the ‘acknowledgement of teen pregnancy/assisting pregnant teens’ with the idea that the school is somehow promoting teen sex. Providing school support systems to help pregnant teens and teen moms stay in school will help them finish high school and maybe pursue post-high school education. Most importantly, having their peers see these pregnant girls and their babies’ fathers in their classrooms will cause some teens to think twice about having unprotected sex. Nothing like seeing living, breathing examples of how your life would change by having a baby.
I’m not saying that schools should serve as some type of defacto parent, though some already do whether parents like it or not. However, schools need to stop putting their heads in the sand when it comes to teen pregnancy and other student issues (i.e., racism, bullying, sexuality, sexism, etc.) that they’re not comfortable dealing with because these issues will not go away. In the end, schools are supposed to educate all students and help them graduate, even pregnant girls and teen moms.
On August 5th the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) via the Department of Labor announced that there wasn’t much movement in the unemployment rate (from 9.2% to 9.1%) and in the number of unemployed persons (13.9 million) since April. However, 117,000 new jobs have been created since June with most of the job gains in health care, retail trade, manufacturing and mining. Not such great news.
Whenever the U.S. Department of Labor announces the nation’s quarterly unemployment rate I always double it. I believe my mathematical adjustment better reflects the country’s true unemployment status of its citizens.
The gathering of unemployment data has been incomplete and under-reported. In other words, the unemployment numbers are utter bullshit.
Who are they counting?
Every day I hear and read about people who have been unemployed for years; living on their savings to get by. I see obviously unemployed 20somethings roaming the malls or riding the metro. I’ve been in DC libraries in the afternoon where I see people between the ages of 30-60 using the library computers or personal laptops looking and applying for jobs. I talk to people who have family members who were laid-off from their $70K+ jobs who are now working part-time for $8/hour at some retail store. I know people who have been underemployed for almost four years and have been looking for full-time work for just as long. We see some of these people every day. Does the BLS see these people?!
If the BLS numbers were a true reflection of the nation’s jobless rate–which is probably closer to my suggested 19.2% instead of 9.1%– Americans would be stunned. They would also be very scared if they came across this tidbit on the BLS website which states that “UI information cannot be used as a source for complete information on the number of unemployed.”
The UI (unemployment insurance) is the number of people who apply for and receive unemployment benefits. The reason why this data isn’t a complete source because it doesn’t calculate a) unemployed people delaying to apply for unemployment benefits; b) those who are underemployed and 3) those who have exceeded their unemployment benefits and have given up looking for work. Most importantly, this data, unlike the unemployment rate isn’t collected monthly; normally it’s done quarterly or biannually.
Yet the the BLS numbers are used as the source for unemployment data; constantly reported as gospel. How can BLS data be reported as factual when its own website implies that some of its data is incomplete?
History of Unemployment Data
The BLS has been reporting the nation’s unemployment numbers for over 70 years since 1933 during the President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. These numbers are what keep the nation going. Financial decisions ranging from corporate investments to whether to buy a new home are sometimes determined by the reported unemployment rate.
The unemployment numbers are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) a monthly survey conducted by the U.S. government that calculates the rate of unemployment in the United States. The survey does not interview every American which would be unwieldy, but a sample of the population. That sample amounts to 110,000 individuals (60,000 households) at least 15 years of age that are surveyed per month. The samples are grouped geographically so as to represent each state and the District of Columbia.
CPS is the largest survey conducted and claims that its numbers are right “90 out of 100 times” meaning that there count is probably off by “290,000 people.”
All these caveats and qualifications to their data, yet their unemployment numbers are still repeatedly cited as an economic bellwether.
It’s not only their data which is a tad suspect, but how it defines employment and unemployment is also food for thought.
Employed vs. Unemployed
According to the BLS website “People with jobs are employed. People who are jobless, looking for jobs, and available for work are unemployed. People who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force.”
Sounds simple enough, but labor statistics are not that clear-cut, though BLS’s data seems to suggest that it is.
BLS attempts to do its best to provide factual and erroneous-free data stating that its interviewers “do not decide the respondents’ labor force classification.” The BLS sites states that interviewers (U.S. Census workers) are instructed to “simply ask the questions in the prescribed way and record the answers.” Then “based on information collected in the survey and definitions programmed into the computer, individuals are then classified as employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.”
Let’s take a look at those definitions which help decide the nation’s unemployment rate:
- employed – The BLS numbers that contribute to the unemployment/employment rate doesn’t specify whether your employment is part-time or full-time. It doesn’t go into details about whether you’re job is a minimum wage job that you had to take because you were laid-off from your $60,000/year job. It doesn’t worry about the fact that your full-time job was switched to a part-time job with less money. It doesn’t account for the fact that your part-time hours were cut from 30 hours to 10 hours per week. As long as you are employed in some capacity, no matter how untenable or financially debilitating it is, the BLS considers you to be employed.
- employed/length of employment – The BLS will also classify you as being employed if you’ve worked at least 5 weeks during their quarterly reporting periods. In other words, as long as someone works at least 20 weeks out of a 52-week period they’re considered gainfully employed. Some of these people may actually be underemployed, but not according to BLS.
- unemployed – This number is based on those people who have filed and received unemployment benefits (UI). The emphasis should be on ‘filed’ because as far as BLS is concerned if you are unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefits then you’re not on their unemployment radar. Some of us know people who have been laid off from work whose unemployment benefits have run out and have been looking for employment for months, sometimes years. The BLS doesn’t have a classification for these individuals, but they are out there
- not in the labor force – This antiquated description is for those who are 16+ who have never held a job or looked for a job. People who have not worked or no longer work due to a disability. One of BLS’ examples mentioned on their site is named ‘Linda Coleman’ who is a homemaker who is “occupied with her normal household chores” and has “neither held a job nor looked for a job.” According to the Business Insider, teen participation rate in the workforce has been on the decline since the 1950s. As of January 2011 teens represent only 3% of the workforce though there are 74 million teens in the U.S. Surely the unemployment rate would increase if it had to account for an influx of fresh on-the-job market teens looking for work.
The job status for many Americans is not as clear-cut as it used to be, yet BLS still gathers its data based on the definition of employment that was established during the era of the FDR presidency and the Great Depression.
However, there has to be a way for BLS to track those people who no longer receive unemployment benefits, to find out about their employment status post-benefits. We need to know if these individuals have found a full-time position with comparable salary and if they’re underemployed or unemployed. If they’re still unemployed are they looking for work or have they taken a temporary or permanent break from job hunting?
Back to the 9.1% unemployment rate. It does paints a semi-rosy picture, even though several job prognosticators and economists see it as an arbiter of even more bad news to come. The fear is that if the nation hits double digits then we will be in worse shape, than expected. The fact is many Americans are already there, some have been experiencing the worse for quite some time.
Sophia Koropeckyj, a labor economist at Moody’s Analytics a credit analysis and financial management firm said, “Clearly, the 9.1 percent does not at all reflect what is going on” about the unemployment rate.
You can’t get much clearer than that. Too bad BLS’ data can’t do the same.
Hashtag Hesitation: How some at American University are wary, while others embrace social media in the classroom
Note: Article was originally posted April 2, 2011 on American University’s graduate news site, AmericanObserver.net
American University is hosting a three-day Social Learning Summit this weekend to promote new media and its use in academic institutions.
The event aims to bring together students, educators, researchers and professionals to learn and exchange information on a “broad swath of topics at the intersection of social media, technology, and education,” according to the event website.
The use of social media by AU students may have increased rapidly in recent years, but its use in academic programs has been slower to develop, according to AU senior and SLS coordinator Alex Priest. This weekend’s gathering aims to change that.
Facebook has taken over as the “social network of choice.” While other outlets such as Twitter have become popular as a social media and networking tool, Pew states that just 8 percent of online teens say they ever use the micro-blogging tool.
According to Priest, the “advent of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and other mobile apps” is as significant as previous technological milestones such as the “impact of email and the telephone.” Despite this, he says, many on campus may be “less receptive” to social media in the classroom.
Priest said that the term “social media” is awkward and is sometimes misunderstood. “Any form of communication, any medium that allows for two-way communication… to allow you to interact with each other” is social media, he says. He believes that maybe if people looked at social media in terms of an “engagement” that it will help them to understand it better.
Professors and social media
AU Professor Scott Talan, another AUSMC faculty adviser, said that students “don’t know what they don’t know” about social media. Though younger users may have grown up using social media, such familiarity may not translate to fully exploiting its capabilities. While Facebook has become wildly popular, Talan said, if technology is not intuitive, people — even young people — won’t use it.
Talkin’ bout my generation
Talan said some professors still see social media as another way to fracture student’s attention spans. However, he does not see this as a valid argument against using social media in the classroom.
“Students are distracted by daydreaming. There will always be distractions,” he said. But, he also sees SLS as a “big opportunity for [professors] to learn and use social media” in order to understand it better.
Talan added that most staff on campus are “digital immigrants” in that they “haven’t grown up with this stuff.” He said that faculty are the “last generation” in that will be part “analog” and part “digital.”
“Different generations have a different comfort zone with technology,” said John Hussey,
He says some faculty are uncomfortable with social media because of the “barriers of technology” and the “stigma” that may be associated with it. He said that faculty still see Facebook as a place for “posting baby pictures” and Twitteras a tool for letting people know “what they had for lunch.”
There isn’t an official AU push for faculty to become more adept with social media tools, according to Hussey. However, he said that there are more that 70 AU offices on Twitter and approximately 40 professors have Twitter accounts.
Hussey said there is no need for a “PR campaign” in order to “pitch” professors on social media. “The adoption of social media has happened all over campus,” said Hussey. “The professors will have to get on board.”
To help ease faculty’s comfort with social media tools, Hussey’s office has held unofficial group meetings durign the past year to answer technology questions from professors and staff. He plans to officially schedule monthly meetings as a place to help faculty feel more at ease with using social media.
“They need to get past the technology to understand what it offers,” said Hussey.
Social media in the classroom
Though some students and faculty may not have fully embraced social media, a few AU professors have incorporated it into their classrooms.
During Fall 2009’s ‘snowpocalypse’ AU Professor Rhonda Zaharna used Facebook to hold class during a snowday when campus was closed. “It was the first time that I ever used Facebook that way,” she said.
Discussion questions were posted and answered via the social network during the scheduled classroom time. Since then Zaharna has used Facebook along with YouTube to “generate discussions” about assigned readings in her class.
Though Zaharna has been using Facebook she hasn’t discussed her usage of social media with other faculty members. “I’m still too new to it to be advising anyone” on how to use it in the classroom, she said.
Lauren Feldman, assistant professor in the School of Communications, said Facebook is easier to use as an interaction tool with students — such as to extend classroom discussions — because they are on it several times a day anyways. “Getting students to use Blackboard . . . was more of a challenge” because students didn’t use it consistently.
Feldman said that the fear some professors have that social media will take the place of actual teaching is due to the educators not “having quite figured out how [they] should embrace social media.” However, she said that it’s important that faculty “understand that students’ approach to learning is diverse” and that they have to “go where the fish are” to get through to them.
Though Feldman has embraced social media, she said that it would not replace other forms of learning, but will merely be supplemental. “Tweets will not replace papers and blog posts are not going to replace reading,” she said.
Social media redefining the classroom
The social media landscape is constantly changing, making it hard to keep up or determine what will be the next big thing.
Social media beyond the Web will be the next big change, according to Talan. Faculty and students will eventually be using social media tools such as e-textbooks, iPads and smartphones in the classroom.
But real change depends on users adopting new technology. The “real challenge,” says Priest is getting people to have an “open mind.”
I am seven weeks away from receiving my Master’s in Interactive Journalism (IJ) from American University. It has been a long and tiring 19 months, but I do not regret any of it, especially since American has become a “center for new journalism.” I have had great classes and not-so-great classes. I had courses that I enjoyed immensely; taught by professors that I found enlightening. On the opposite end, a couple of my courses were downright aggravating with less than stellar professors. When I entered the IJ program I had a general knowledge/base of what constitutes digital and print journalism, but I wanted to learn more. As the last few weeks of grad school draws to a close I can safely say that I not only ‘know’ but ‘understand.’ There is a difference between the two words that many fail to grasp; knowing is not understanding. My favorite quote is by Hippocrates which sums things up succinctly “To know is science, to think you know is ignorance.” Amen.
Updated November 17, 2017
Vietnam Memorial. Arlington Cemetery. Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument. Jefferson Memorial. When standing in front these memorials, visitors experience a range of emotions. Awe. Hurt. Sadness. Respect.
The United States National Parks Services (NPS) the government bureau responsible for the maintenance of these memorials, wants visitors to notice and feel the beauty of these memorials – not any aesthetic bruises that would detract from the experience.
However, not every Washington, D.C. memorial is viewed with excitement and reverence by its visitors.
The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is classified as a presidential memorial, like the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR, but in terms of recognition it is the poor stepchild of local memorials.
Visitors congregate in front of the memorial on a daily basis, but have no knowledge of Grant or his history. Dennis Montagna, Director of National Park Services’ Monument Research and Preservation Program said that it is a “very anonymous memorial” whose site is mainly used as a place for high school classes to get their picture taken because the U.S. Capitol building is right behind it. Kirk Savage, author of Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape said that “it’s amazing how little is known” about the memorial or the man.
The Grant Memorial is located at between Pennsylvania and Maryland Ave, near the west side of the U.S. Capitol Building. It was dedicated in 1921 in honor of Ulysses S. Grant the 18th president of the United States. It is one of twenty-seven presidential memorials in the United States. It is also the first memorial to be constructed on the National Mall.
Unlike other presidential memorials such as the Lincoln or the Jefferson, Grant’s statue was not in honor of his presidential legacy. Unfortunately, President Grant’s administration from 1869 to 1877 was full of governmental mischief from start to finish. Staff members resigned over a host of scandals such as bribery, extortion, financial kickbacks, embezzlement and causing the gold market to crash.
Grant the President
Grant had a bad habit of hiring the wrong people. He also had an even worse habit of remaining loyal to these malcontents who were steadfastly throwing his presidential administration under the bus, to use a current vernacular.
Grant’s presidency did have some accomplishments such as the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that allowed African-American males over the age of twenty-one the right to vote, the 1875 Civil Rights Act which prohibited discrimination and segregation against African-Americans in public settings, his “Peace Policy” for Native Americans and establishment of the U.S. Department of Justice. However, it’s hard to point to your triumphs when your failures are more pronounced and politically salacious.
After his presidency Grant tried to settle back into a normal life, but it was hard due to financial missteps on his part. However, Grant used this time to write his memoirs, which provided the public with its first insight into the presidency. When he died of throat cancer in 1885 over one million people gathered in New York City to watch Grant’s funeral procession and burial ceremonies.
According to Joan Waugh, author of Pageantry of Woe: The Funeral of Ulysses S. Grant, Grant’s funeral was a “spectacle, replete with religious, patriotic, and nationalistic imagery and rhetoric” and that across the country thousands of eulogies and obituaries for Grant “stressed his Christian moral character” and military role in “preserving the Union.” Not much was said about his presidency, which was to be expected.
In the years after his presidency there was a movement to honor Grant with a statue in honor of his work for his country. Though his presidency practically drowned in scandal, Grant’s reputation was saved by one major historical fact. Prior to his presidency, Grant was the magnificent general who led the Union Army to victory against the Confederates in the American Civil War. Grant supporters’ arguments carried the day and the Grant Memorial was built after his death, just like all the other presidential memorials.
Yet the Grant Memorial is not like other presidential memorials. What makes it different is that it is a military memorial that honors a former president.
The Making of the Memorial
The Grant Memorial was made using bronze for the statues and white marble for the platforms. Sculptor Henry Shrady took over twenty years to finish it and died before the dedication ceremonies. Montagna said that Shrady never got a chance to “bask in the glow of adulation regarding the memorial.”
Shrady designed the Grant Memorial to include three sections consisting of Grant in the middle with images of a cavalry charge and an artillery unit on his left and right of Grant statue.
The largest section of the memorial statue at over seventeen feet is Grant posed on a horse with his sword sticking high in the air. The statue exudes strength of character and decisiveness, personality traits that probably served him well during the Civil War. Savage said that Grant “looms above in majestic isolation” over his troops “in his own world, separated from the ordinary soldier. Montagna said that Grant looks “cool and unflappable while all hell is breaking loose around him.”
The ‘hell’ that Montagna is referring to is reflected in the faces of the artillery unit and cavalry charge statues that are next to Grant. These statues show a different side of war.
In the artillery group the men are readying for battle with their faces set in determination for the inevitable with their howitzer in tow. The leader of the artillery looks as if he was caught giving an order in mid-sentence. The horses are charging full steam ahead, necks arched almost prancing while they churn up water and mud as their hooves try to find traction in the land.
As for the cavalry group their determination has given way to fear and pain. The men are huddled together fighting off the cold as their cart takes them to another battle. A horse has lost his footing and is falling down. Unfortunately it has taken a soldier with him who most uncertainly will be trampled to death. The soldier’s face is crying out but no one seems to hear him. Savage said that if you didn’t know any better you would think that it’s an “anti-war” memorial.
The Grant Memorial was highly praised upon its dedication. It also was seen as a first step in the revitalization of Union Square, what is now the National Mall. The goal (McMillan Plan), according to the Commission on the Arts (commonly known as the McMillan Commission) at the time was to have more gardens and parks surrounding the memorial. Instead something called the Lincoln Memorial, built to honor the sixteenth president was dedicated in May 1922, one month after the Grant Memorial dedication. Just like that – the dwarfing of the Grant Memorial had begun.
As more memorials and a reflecting pool popped up along the National Mall the view of the Grant Memorial became more obscure. Others such as Grant historian James Goode and the Washington Post’s Paul Richard have championed the Grant Memorial to raise its recognition, but not too much avail. Too add insult to injury the memorial was also getting worked over by the elements.
Rain and snow created a type of rust that coated the pristine bronze statues of Grant Memorial with a green-like coating that oozed its way down onto the marble. The marble platforms and ballasts have cracks and missing pieces. Not much was done about it until the 1980s when the National Parks Services began cleaning and waxing it again.
Catherine Dewey, Architectural Conservator at the National Park Service said in an “ideal world” the memorial would be cleaned at least once a year. However, she said that the cleaning of monuments and memorials are “partially based on need” and the “higher profile” of the monument.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pick and choose which memorials and monuments deserve funds and which will have to wait a while.” said Montagna.
Dewey said that the National Park Service is seeking funds for the restoration of the Grant in the next few years. In the interim, since the Grant Memorial is not the Lincoln, the Vietnam or the Jefferson it has to wait for its turn in the cleaning rotation.
It is highly unlikely that the Grant Memorial will ever see the number of visitors as the Lincoln or the Jefferson. Savage said the area around the memorial is not set-up for visitors, with the reflecting pool blocking access to the memorial. Plus he said “it’s Grant – not Lincoln” and that “each has a much different place in our memory.”
Yet there are people out there who think that the Grant Memorial still has a shot at recognition. Savage said that the memorial needs to be “interpreted for contemporary use” with kiosks, podcasts or audio and “create a whole new physical circulation to the Mall area” to include the Grant memorial in its foot traffic. Or maybe the memorial should be rebranded as a statue-like movie as described by Richards “offering horses at full gallop drama, ceaseless action, bugle calls, grunts and screams.” Also, Grant has become pretty popular in the publishing industry, with some authors saying that his presidency wasn’t all that bad. But is that enough?
Maybe the Grant Memorial one day will get the recognition its supporters thinks it deserves. But as long as it is staring across the Lincoln Memorial that recognition will always be hard to find.
But hope springs eternal.
Grant Memorial gets a facelift as story of its tormented sculptor is retold (Washington Post, 8/27/2015)
Updated April 2, 2018
If you are a connoisseur of media politics the 1960 presidential debates between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon brought attention to the power of television and the declining importance of radio. The groupthink about the debates is that Kennedy won over the television debate audience while Nixon reigned over those who heard it on the radio. Was there such a disparate reaction to the candidates? Would Kennedy have lost to Nixon if the debates were not televised?
In looking at the Boston Globe’s coverage of the debates and the election, the supposed dichotomous television and radio public reactions to the Kennedy-Nixon debates and the assumptions surrounding its impact on Kennedy and Nixon are simply myths quoted as facts. Most importantly, the so-called facts supporting this myth are based on Kennedy and Nixon’s presidencies and not the debates themselves.
Unfortunately, it is a foregone conclusion to many historians, political operatives, political junkies and those in-between that Nixon lost the election because Kennedy beat him during the first televised debate on the image factor. Nixon looked tired. Kennedy was vibrant. Nixon seemed cranky. Kennedy was hopeful. Nixon was nervous and sweaty. Kennedy was confident and relaxed. Then in the same breath these same individuals proclaim that Nixon was the winner of the debate for those who tuned in via radio instead of television. Nixon is then described as strong versus Kennedy’s hesitancy. Nixon was knowledgeable. Kennedy was a neophyte. Nixon’s enunciation was clear. Kennedy’s accent made it hard to understand him.
A whole cottage industry on the media-effect of the Kennedy-Nixon debate has sprung up since the 1960 election. Most interesting, the analysis that Kennedy won the televised debate and Nixon the radio version is like an urban legend that has been infinitely repeated until it became accepted gospel.
1960 Political/Cultural Climate & The Boston Globe
The 1960 presidential election was of importance to the American electorate because of the changing political and cultural landscape. At that time Americans had international concerns about the spread of communism, exemplified by then Soviet Union President Nikita Khrushchev. The Russians were believed to be interested in the destruction of democracy and the United States, not necessarily in that order. Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro had confiscated over $770 million of U.S. property in response to the U.S. embargo of their country. The Berlin Wall was under construction in East Germany. France tested its first atomic bomb, as they became a nuclear power along with the United States, the United Kingdom and what was then known as the USSR.
Stateside the country was facing civil unrest over the enforcement of school integration as a result of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Also, then President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which provided voting rights protection and prohibited voting obstruction. The iconic image of the civil rights movement for the year was of four African-American students who decided to stage a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Other signals of cultural change were the U.S. Drug Administration’s approval of the first oral contraceptive and the publication of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about criminal injustice.
Many of the major city newspapers such as the Boston Globe covered the international events with as much intensity as they did local coverage. The Globe prided itself on its international coverage and had various foreign bureaus in Moscow, East Asia, the United Kingdom and Africa. Locally, the paper covered primarily the Greater Boston area, which included six counties and parts of Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
The history of the Globe began in 1872 with a group of Boston businessmen and a $150,000 investment. By 1960 the paper had more than 300,00 subscribers that read its daily morning, afternoon, evening and Sunday editions.
The contents of the Boston Globe back then were about the same as the typical newspaper today. The paper had several sections such as the main/headline news, editorial, sports, style, entertainment and classifieds section. Interestingly, the style section had a subsection dedicated to its female readers titled “Women’s Section.” These articles were normally about cooking, the latest fashions, conducting the proper dinner party, how to raise proper children and what you need to do to keep your husband happy. The sports section was pretty expansive with heavy coverage and action photo shots on professional sports, mostly the Boston Red Sox and college football. Since it was the year of the Summer Olympics Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) received a lot of newspaper coverage for his gold medal in boxing. The editorial and main pages were mostly in synch topically, whether the subject was on the Cold War, poverty, education or local corruption. As for the classifieds section it was easily several pages in length with more than twenty advertisements per page.
As for its readership, the newspapers’ audience was primarily white; therefore its contents were directed towards that audience. Though 1960 was a year of pivotal civil rights issues, images or news about Blacks, beyond the sports section were generally absent from the Globe. The Boston Globe also looked much like the other large metropolitan papers in font-style and its use of photographs. The font was Times Roman and its photographs weren’t too fancy, with many of the subjects caught in close-up facial or full-length body shots.
The articles themselves varied in size from blurbs, to several paragraph to investigative-length pieces. What is interesting is that a good portion of the articles carried over to a second page, even if some of them could have fit on one page. The paper looked and felt as if it was cramming as much news as possible so that its readers would be truly informed, even though they were sometimes publishing three daily editions.
Overview of the Candidates
At the time of the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy was 43 years-old and in his second term as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, this after serving six years in the House of Representatives for Massachusetts’ 12th district. Nixon at 47 was in his second-term as the Vice-President of the United States under President Eisenhower. Prior to his vice-presidency, Nixon had been elected to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from the state of California.
Kennedy, who graduated from Harvard, was young, handsome, intelligent and rich who happened to be married to an elegant and beautiful wife. He was viewed as someone on the rise, primarily due to his family connections, as a man with new ideas, though his Senate voting record sometimes didn’t follow the party line. That is, when he actually was present to vote in the Senate. He had missed a lot of voting sessions due to ongoing back problems that were exacerbated by his World War II war wounds. Kennedy had gained national prominence by finishing second in the 1956 vice-presidential nominee balloting at the Democratic Convention. The following year he received a Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage. Though by 1960 Kennedy had given the now-famous ‘New Frontier’ speech about new ideals and public service to “combat poverty, ignorance, [and] war,” his nomination was still viewed as “more of a triumph of organization and evaluation than of deep dedication.”
Nixon’s personal and political background was a bit less meteoric, but still noteworthy. He had worked at his family’s grocery store while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Whittier College. He finished second in his class at Duke University’s School of Law. Nixon was a practicing attorney when he signed up for the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the Navy for four years where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander during World War II. Nixon first gained national attention due to his House Un-American Activities Committee work that helped convict alleged Soviet Spy Alger Hiss. He was only 39 when he was selected by Eisenhower to be his vice-president. In 1952 Nixon gave his famous “Checkers” speech on national television in which he defended himself against influence-peddling allegations in order to remain on the ticket. As vice-president Nixon expanded the office’s role beyond Congressional legislation into national security matters. A prime example of this was his unplanned 1959 “Kitchen Debate’” with Khrushchev in which Nixon had “stood up to the bully.” Along with his friendly wife and young daughters, Nixon had garnered a lot of prestige and goodwill with the Republican Party and the public by the time he ran for president in 1960.
Aside from the usual political party stances (conservative versus liberal) on policy issues the candidates agreed much more than they disagreed. For example, they both planned to combat poverty, support American farmers, strengthen the education system, build up the economy, and protect the civil rights of Negroes (the vernacular used at that time for Blacks/African-Americans). Even Nixon had agreed that the differences between him and Kennedy were not so much in their goals, but in the means of achieving them. By the time the first debate rolled around Roscoe Drummond of the Globe said that the debates would hopefully “enable [the public] to appraise the candidates face to face” so that we can look at their “divergent statements back to back.”
Coverage of the Candidates
The Globe’s coverage of the candidates was mostly even-handed, surprising given the fact that Kennedy was a Boston politician. The paper apparently made a point of providing nearly daily coverage of each candidate’s campaign stops, policy statements, spousal comments with photos, and columnists‘ comments in support of Nixon or Kennedy. The stories on each candidate would appear on the same page, opposite pages or in the main news section. For example, in mid-September the Globe had an article titled “Jack Tells Nation He’d Outdo Reds” in which he criticized President Eisenhower’s handling of Soviet President Khrushchev and how he would deal with Russia and its president. On the same page was another article, “Nixon Would Suspend Criticism of Defense: Asks Moratorium While Reds Swarming Here” in which Nixon states that Kennedy is playing into the communists’ hands by criticizing America’s strategy against the Russians.
However, there were times that the Globe’s even-handed treatment of the candidates was absent. On occasion the paper referred to John F. Kennedy as ‘Jack’ not ‘Kennedy’ or ‘Senator Kennedy.’ Richard Nixon for the most part was referred to as ‘Nixon.’ Sometimes the use of Nixon’s name with his title ‘Vice President Nixon’ appeared in the body of the article. There were a couple of times during the pre/post debate coverage in which the paper used the candidates’ nicknames (‘Jack’ and ‘Dick’) in the same article.
The pre-debate articles showed separate photos of the candidates, set-up to face each other with the text of the column in the middle. Yet, the caption under the pictures could paint a slightly different picture. Nixon’s photo caption describes him as a “master debater” with Kennedy’s caption stating that he’s a “also a good talker.” It would appear that the columnist, John Harris, for this particular article might have a slight bias. Another nickname usage example was in the evening edition of the paper after the first debate, which was titled “Jack, Dick Survey Soviet Economic Surge at Close of Historic Debate.”
Also, in an editorial by Ralph McGill, a day after the debate refers to Kennedy as “Senator Kennedy” while Vice President Nixon is called “Mr. Nixon.” Of note is in the first paragraph he calls the candidates “Messrs. Kennedy and Nixon.” However, for the most part the paper used the candidates’ last name without their official titles throughout the Globe’s campaign coverage. One can conclude that maybe some of the columnists showed their Kennedy preference, if not necessarily the newspaper as a whole. Regarding Nixon, neither the Globe nor its columnists seem to have favored or expressed disfavor with Nixon, as if they were abstaining from making an opinion.
The rest of the coverage of the candidates such as photos and inside personal stories were perfunctory at best. The candidates were usually photographed close-up, smiling, waving or shaking hands at various campaign stops. You could never tell where they were campaigning because the photos were focused so tightly on the candidates. Their facial expressions rarely changed from relaxed or serious, except when they were emphatic about something. Then you would see the candidate pointing their fingers or their lips pursed, caught in the middle of a statement. Maybe the photographs were so general in nature because they were via the Associated Press and not the Globe.
Of note is the fact that the Globe hardly spent anytime on the candidates’ religious backgrounds, especially Kennedy’s Catholicism. Nixon was a Protestant so his religion wasn’t viewed as a problem. However, Kennedy’s Catholicism was considered a big issue because of American anti-Catholic sentiments. Many wondered whether he would follow the dictates of the people or the pope. Kennedy eventually felt compelled to state that:
I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for the Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.
The day before the debate coverage the Globe printed an article by Samuel Lubbell, a syndicated columnist and public opinion analyst. Lubbell stated that if Kennedy would lose the presidential election “it will not be primarily because he is a Catholic.” The article goes on to mention that Lubbell found “more persons shifting from their past voting habits because of religious considerations” but that a “widespread feeling” that Kennedy lacks experience in foreign affairs was hurting his candidacy. Maybe another reason why the Catholicism issue was not addressed much in the paper was because its readers were mostly Catholic and therefore saw this angle as irrelevant.
Though some at the Globe may have favored Kennedy for president prior to the paper’s official endorsement of Kennedy, its coverage did not significantly reflect the newspaper’s preference. Maybe the paper was adhering to journalistic objectivity in that they wanted to be a source of information and not just an assumed Kennedy supporter. Also, the paper may not have seen Kennedy as a favorite son given his tenuous connection to the Boston area. Kennedy had only lived in the Boston area up to the age of ten before his family relocated to New York. Afterwards he attended boarding schools and college outside of Massachusetts. Though Kennedy was a Massachusetts Senator, the Globe may have been sensitive to the idea that other journalists or the public would think that they were automatic Kennedy supporters, hence their balanced coverage.
Pre-Debate Coverage of the 1st Debate
When Kennedy and Nixon agreed to participate in the nation’s first televised presidential debate it did not come with much fanfare, given its media significance. Besides it being the first televised debate it was also the first debate between presidential candidates since future presidential candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas’ famous verbal duels in 1858 to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.
The Globe’s first article announcing the Kennedy-Nixon debate was published at the end of August 1960. The article did not appear on the front page, and it was only seven short paragraphs in length. It mentioned that the first debate would last an hour; occur in Chicago on September 26th and the topic would be domestic affairs. Also, that there would be three other debates to occur sometime between late September through October. As for any potential hyperbole, the article added that the debate would be “history’s first face-to-face television and radio debates between major party nominees for President of the United States” and that Lincoln and Douglas could have never “dreamed of the vast audience” that Nixon and Kennedy will reach. In addition, unnamed congressmen predicted that the candidates’ appearances “may revolutionize political campaigning by substituting the living room for the county fairgrounds or the rear platform of a cross country train.”
After this semi build-up the Globe didn’t mention the upcoming first debate again until three days before the scheduled debate. In between the announcement of the debates and the actual debate the Globe published articles on the Kennedy and Nixon campaign travels, speeches, comments from their supporters and critics and political zingers that the candidates aimed at each other. The Boston voters did not see the historic significance to the upcoming debate either. In a Letter to the Editor dated September 25, 1960 a voter said that he could not “detect any difference” between Kennedy and Nixon and that they both “spout pious, vaporous platitudes, but some of their statements give you an idea of their make-up.”
Nevertheless, Kennedy and Nixon continued to campaign on their strengths and differences. Kennedy’s continued with his platform that the Eisenhower Administration was out of new ideas and that the nation had ground to a halt. Nixon reiterated he had the requisite experience to help the United States get through the difficult times that were ahead.
Three days before the debate, the Globe placed news of the upcoming debate on the first page, albeit at the bottom of the page. The article said that there was an “air of tenseness in both camps” and that the televised and radio broadcast of the debates will “literally blank out all other programs.” It added that Nixon, Kennedy and their staff were busy with “final preparations” and are “keenly aware of the high stakes.” The editorial section had more of a promotional quality to its write-up of the debate. It commented that:
It would be appropriate and useful for those who expect to vote Republican to listen to Sen. Kennedy with special attentiveness and for those who expect they are going to vote Democratic to listen to Vice President Nixon with extra care.
The day of the debate another editorial said that the televised argument would allow for “voter enlightenment” due to the “mingling of claims of the Republican candidate” and the “assertions” of the his Democratic foe.” Another article reminded its readers about the debate’s start time, parameters, its topic and that it could have a “devastating potential to make or break their campaign for the presidency.”
Post 1st Debate Coverage
The first debate was watched by over nearly 75 million viewers, though it was a sedentary affair. The candidates sat in chairs with a table between them except when they had to approach the lectern to make their opening and closing statements and during the Q & A section. The domestic affairs questions were on the topics of American poverty, civil rights for minorities, better education, the economy and why each thought they would be the better president. There weren’t any verbal miscues or raised voices, except possibly on how the federal government was going to pay for these social programs. Overall it was a polite debate.
The day after the debate editorial comments from outside the Boston area such as The New York Times described the debate as “at times, interesting, but at no time [an] inspiring picture” of the candidates. The Milwaukee Journal said that the debate was “unprecedented,” that it was “exciting” and most of all “informative.” The Seattle Times hoped that in future debates Kennedy and Nixon would “trade their verbal punches with less restraint and with less of an eye on the stopwatch.” The New York News called out the broadcasting industry in their criticism, asking, “If the TV tycoons won’t let Kennedy and Nixon at least try to do as well as Lincoln and Douglas did, why go on with [these] powder puff performances?” News icon Edward R. Murrow stated, “after last night’s debate the reputation of Messieurs Lincoln and Douglas is secure.”
The candidates’ own thoughts on the debates were bland at best. Kennedy said that the debate was “very useful” and that this and subsequent debates “could prove to be very important.” Nixon through his press secretary said he felt good about the debate.
As for the Boston Globe, its next day coverage of the debate was objective, sticking with analyses and opinions based on text of the debate. The newspaper’s headlines asked “Who Won On TV? You Guess,” described the candidates as “Aggressive Kennedy, Intense Nixon Array Beliefs in Sharpest Focus,” claimed that “Debate Proves There Are Differences Between Candidates,” or stated that “Jack, Dick Survey Soviet Economic Surge at Close of Historic Debate.” The articles themselves provided debate highlights and more descriptive comments on how the candidates answered the questions or looked when the other was responding to a question such as Kennedy looking tense or when Nixon glanced down.
Opinions on the debate came from academics, Globe columnists and Boston voters. Globe columnist Charles Claffey interviewed Bostonians at a “fashionable” hotel for their debate thoughts. John Bartlett said that the debate “reaffirmed [his] conviction beyond a shadow of a doubt” that Nixon is his choice for president. Lorie Walsh said that “she was a neutral” before watching the debate and that [she still is].” Frank Mullin said Kennedy “better expressed the views of the American public than Vice President Nixon.” Priscilla Howe, an independent voter thought, “both Kennedy and Nixon gave a wonderful show.” One unnamed television viewer said that they didn’t like either candidate, that they were “both hams.” Another Globe columnist, Douglas Crocket also spent time at a bar interviewing male voters. The bar patrons said that they became “bored” with the debate and that Nixon “agreed too much” with Kennedy. The Globe also took part in a newspaper pool with twelve other newspapers in which they all contacted a “Joe Smith” in their area to get their opinion of the debate. Boston’s Joe Smith said that “Kennedy appeared more sincere” and “Nixon appeared more hesitant and hedging.” The other Joe Smiths located in other areas such as Seattle, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis also favored Kennedy.
Globe columnists wrote up their opinions a couple of days after the debate. Sal Pett said that Nixon did better in the debate because of his “folksiness” in that he “engaged in good fellowship” and that his career “follows the traditional American success story.” Joseph Alsop said, “neither man fell flat on his face.” John Crosby said, “Kennedy outpointed Nixon,” but that the candidates were “awfully cautious.” Roscoe Drummond said both looked “scared and somber” and that Nixon was quick with a rebuttal and Kennedy showed a “full mastery of his subject matter.”
In the Globe’s Letter to the Editor section several Boston voters had opinions about the debate all across the sphere, that “Kennedy has the best answers to the ills of our country;” others said that “neither gave any indication” that they differed from their respective party’s predecessors, and that while another believed that “neither [is] a genius, but they like Nixon.”
Besides the candidates’ handling of the debate, a few articles had popped up about how they looked during their televised appearance, with the articles concentrated on Nixon. After the debate there were comments about Nixon’s health and appearance, that he looked like he had lost weight that he was worn out. The image issue was first mentioned in an article the day after the debate, in which Nixon said “[he thought he] lost a couple of pounds and it [might have shown] up on his face.” Right next to this column was another article about Nixon’s appearance. Nixon’s wife is quoted as saying her husband “looked wonderful on [her] TV set” in response to a reporter’s question if she thought her husband looked tired and thinner.
Two days later Nixon’s debate appearance started receiving more coverage. Columnist Doris Fleeson wondered if Nixon’s diet and bad knee hurt his television appearance. She mentioned that Nixon dieted to lose his “pudgy look” and to “tame his jowls” and that his infected knee as a result of surgery created “an awkwardness in his stance.” As for Kennedy, she said that the “cruel cameras were kind to his rounded face” which “refuses to betray campaign fatigue.” Fleeson’s colleague, Ralph McGill said that Kennedy “seemed fresher” and that Nixon “didn’t look too good.”
Later articles in the Globe inquired about Nixon’s health. A physician traveling with Nixon said that there was nothing wrong with the vice president. This same article was also the first time that Nixon’s debate makeup was mentioned as being a problem. Herbert Klein, Nixon’s press secretary attributed Nixon’s haggard look to the TV lights or the makeup he wore.
Don Hewitt, producer of the first debate recalled asking the candidates in the presence of each other if either of them wanted makeup. Both candidates declined, but Hewitt said that he noticed Nixon really needed makeup to “cover a sallow complexion and a growth of beard . . . I think.” Hewitt added that Nixon’s advisors did a “dumb thing” by not using the professional make-up artist who had come to do the candidates. Instead Nixon’s advisors “smeared him with a slapdash layer of something called ‘shavestick’ that looked . . . terrible.” Hewitt added that Kennedy was “well-tanned” from his “open-air” campaign stops in California.
Nixon’s makeup problem turned into mini-drama for a few days. The Globe ran an article (originally published by the Chicago Daily News) stating that the Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists Union believe that his makeup artist may have sabotaged Nixon. An agent for the union said that the makeup artist “loused [Nixon] up so badly that a Republican couldn’t have done that job.” The Nixon camp immediately stamped out this story while acknowledging that Nixon did not look good on television. Even Eisenhower chimed in about the “trials of television makeup” and that it’s too bad that “Dick has such a heavy beard.” Luckily, Nixon’s appearance improved by the time of his televised Republican fundraising event, which occurred a few days after the debate. It was noted that his face had a “strong appearance” and his “emaciated appearance was not in evidence.”
Afterward, Nixon’s makeup and health issue stories disappeared as the Globe fell back to its usual coverage of the candidates’ campaigns, perceived problem voters and Khrushchev. Globe coverage of the second, third, and fourth debates was far less than the first, in contrast to the steady television viewership numbers. Nielsen ratings showed that 28.1 million homes (total persons/viewership not available) tuned into the first debate; 27.9 million for the second; 28.8 million for the third and 27.3 million watched the last debate.
Kennedy was considered the winner of the first debate. Nixon was deemed the winner of the second debate, which was described as a “real slugfest.” The third debate ended in a draw with the 4th debate going to Kennedy.
The 1960 presidential election was very close in that Nixon could have possibly won the election. The day before the election the Globe said that the final Gallup Poll’s nationwide survey gave Kennedy a very slight edge. Kennedy only defeated Nixon by approximately 120,000 out of 68.8 million ballots cast. Political Journalist Theodore White wrote that:
. . . the margin of popular vote is so thin as to be, in all reality, nonexistent. If only 4,500 voters in Illinois and 28,000 voters in Texas changed their minds, the sum of their 32,000 votes would have moved both these states, with their combined 51 electoral votes into the Nixon column.
On November 8th, election day, the Globe’s evening edition projected Kennedy as the newly-elected president with big headlines and articles stating that a “record-size” election “piled up a margin” for Kennedy of “nearly 500,00 votes” over Nixon and that a “new generation has its chance.” Another election article referenced Kennedy as “its favorite son” which was the first time that the Globe used such a description in its campaign coverage. Nixon’s first debate appearance was mentioned in a Globe post-election editorial. Columnist Roscoe Drummond said that Nixon’s “5 o’clock” shadow” had “no place in [the] campaign” and that the debates caused the candidates not to deliver any “serious” or “substantial” speeches.
Two days after the election more Globe columnists had article headlines such as “Liberals Had Their Day;” “The Country Wanted Him” and “Kennedy Calmly Accepts Presidency, Asks Nation to Help.” By the time the third day of post-election rolled around the Globe’s coverage concentrated on Kennedy’s naming of some of his Administration’s staff, a sign that the election was over as far many were concerned. Yet, in the middle of these administrative write-ups was an article about Nixon “not quitting yet” and finding “faint hope in [a] recount.”
As for the comments from the Boston public about the election, it wasn’t the main topic of conversation based on Globe coverage. The newspaper did very little post-election interviewing or news articles of local voters as they did during the campaign. The Letters to the Editor section during the first three days after the election were on such non-election issues such as passengers being punished at Logan Airport, how to get a good job if you are over 50, and that the Boston area had a littering problem. The election was also old news as far as Bostonians were concerned.
However, there was an interesting September 11th article about Robert Kennedy, Jack’s brother stating that Kennedy would not have won the election had it not been for the televised debates. The article also added that Robert Kennedy believed that the election would have been “difficult” if the debates had been “on radio alone.” The article does not directly quote anyone from either campaign about these observations nor were there any post-election follow-up articles in the Globe about this radio-television analysis. Maybe the articles’ placement at the bottom of the page, along with the paper’s main headline being “Car Insurance Rates Up 11%,” signified the Globe’s lack of interest or belief in these conclusions.
Debate: Radio Audience vs. Television Audience
The myth that Kennedy won the television audience and Nixon the radio audience has been repeated so much that most consider it to be true or at least common knowledge. Anecdotes such as former Senator Bob Dole illustrate this myth. Dole recalled that he was “listening to [to the first debate] on the radio coming into Lincoln, Nebraska and thought Nixon was doing a great job.” However, when he saw the TV clips the next morning he thought Nixon “didn’t look well” and that Kennedy looked “young and articulate, and . . . wiped [Nixon] out.” The myth survives even though there are two important factors that undermines the myth’s truthfulness: 1) the number of debates and 2) audience statistics. First, the myth of Kennedy making TV mincemeat of Nixon because Kennedy was calm, cool and collected versus Nixon’s five o’clock shadow and sweatiness. Yes, Nixon did not look well in the first debate, but his appearance in subsequent debates had noticeably improved, and the story died. As stated earlier, Nixon lost the first debate, was declared the winner in the second debate, the third debate was a draw and the fourth debate slightly won by Kennedy. It is hard to conclude that Kennedy won the television debate crowd given the results of the additional debates.
Second, official data regarding the radio audience for the first debate or the other debates doesn’t exist. Though by 1960 over 52 million households owned a television set, a substantial number of the population still relied on their radio for news and information. The debates were broadcast live via television and radio; only TV viewership was officially tracked for the debates.
Much of the debate radio statistics that are mentioned appear to be anecdotal and do not cite from an official ratings source. Articles state that at least 20 million heard the debate or maybe it was 61 million. Ralph MacGill of the Globe said that he had a number of persons listen to the great debate on the radio and they “unanimously thought that Mr. Nixon had the better of it.” Except for MacGill’s anecdotal survey, the Globe did not make any statistical reference to radio listeners, just the total number of television viewers.
According to Pollster.com the only “true survey” that attempted to gauge the debate reactions among television and radio listeners was conducted on November 7, 1960 the day of the elections. Sidlinger and Company did a telephone sample survey in which 282 persons responded. Their survey said that 48.7% of the radio audience thought that Nixon won and 21% picked Kennedy; of the surveyed television audience 30.2% named Kennedy the debate winner with 28.6% picking Nixon. Also, they projected that 270 million watched the debates and 61.4 million listened to them on the radio.
Though this is the only known survey to track the radio and television audience, note that it did not survey either audience during or immediately after the first debate. Also the small sample size also makes the survey suspect. The fact that the survey is rarely mentioned, if ever, in support of the Kennedy-Nixon debate myth raises more flags than provide validation of the myth. As a result, the myth is never backed up with statistical evidence, just personal narratives and anecdotes, which have yet to be proven.
Based on the Boston Globe’s debate and election coverage it is safe to say that neither the first Kennedy-Nixon debate nor the latter debates had much of an impact on the electorate. More importantly, the media myth surrounding the television vs. radio reaction to the Kennedy-Nixon debates is not supported by the Globe’s coverage. The Globe did not concentrate on the candidates’ televised debate looks to Kennedy’s benefit and Nixon’s detriment nor did they publish any data supporting such viewer preference. Also, the Globe did not report any comprehensive radio listener survey or findings that supported radio listeners’ preference for Nixon over Kennedy.
As stated earlier, Kennedy and Nixon debated four times within a one-month period. If Kennedy’s debate performance was so strong and he looked so much better than Nixon, then why did he win by only 120,000 votes? The myth doesn’t have an answer for this particular fact.
Television did play an important part in the debates due to its novelty, not because of any Kennedy-Nixon imagery that significantly favored Kennedy. The Globe’s coverage talked about how interesting it would be to see presidential candidates on the same stage debating each other face-to-face, not on how they would look. The Globe was more fascinated by the millions of viewers who would simultaneously watch the first debate. Nevertheless, the Globe’s coverage emphasized the issues and how each candidate responded to the debate questions, not how they looked on television. The minimal amount of coverage about Kennedy and Nixon’s looks post-debates, especially Nixon’s, contradicts the myth that Kennedy’s handsomeness and Nixon’s paleness led to Kennedy winning the television debate audiences.
The myth that Nixon won the radio audience is also suspect based on Globe coverage. The Globe’s headlines talked about the millions of viewers who watched the first debate. Official and comprehensive radio viewership was not tracked by any polling service; nor mentioned in the Globe. The Globe only published anecdotal comments about how some local radio listeners thought Nixon won the debate.
Where the myth began to take shape and take on a life of its own is hard to determine. However, the myth’s believability is tied to Kennedy’s death and Richard Nixon’s pre/post-presidency years.
After losing the 1960 presidential election, Nixon went back to California after which he ran for governor of California in 1962, a race he lost. In 1963 Kennedy was assassinated, becoming historically frozen in time yet making gains in becoming one of the nation’s most admired presidents. Nixon ran again for president in 1968, finally winning after beating Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey and Independent candidate George Wallace on a platform promising societal stability.
By the time that Nixon was into his second term (1972-1976) his accomplishments were many. Unfortunately Nixon’s Watergate actions led to his 1974 resignation before he would have been impeached. Afterwards Nixon’s image was forever changed. Gone was the poor boy who obtained full scholarships to go to college and law school, who faced down Khrushchev, who went on TV for the first time and successfully fought for his honor; who battled his way back from potential political obscurity after the 1960 election, and who, as president signed the first arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. All that was left was a president who authorized and then attempted to cover-up the break-in of Democratic Party’s headquarters and who enjoyed taping conversations without anyone’s knowledge.
Nixon came to personify the worst of presidents while Kennedy came to symbolize the best. Nixon was ‘Tricky Dick’ while Kennedy was ‘Camelot.’ After Watergate other presidential candidates intentionally or unintentionally attempted to become the next Kennedy while Nixon was an emulation to avoid at all costs.
The avoidance of Nixon’s presidential missteps somehow morphed into a ‘how-not-to-do-a-debate” training video for politicians on the rise. Post-Reagan politicians saw Nixon as someone who didn’t know how to work the television media like Kennedy. This thought completely ignores Nixon’s successful media experience with his ‘Checkers’ speech where he defended his political integrity, his impromptu “Kitchen Debate’ with Khrushchev and his latter strong debates with Kennedy.
Yet, Nixon has become not only a bad president but also a horrible debater whose dark and sweaty visage was a precursor to his Watergate years. Kennedy had become the bright political light that politicians want to be and the public wants to lead their country.
As political pundits, consultants, and analysts have become and probably will continue to be part of political campaigns the Kennedy-Nixon debate media myth will be promulgated again and again. That is until some other candidates’ political actions knock Nixon and Kennedy off of their mythical media thrones. Then again, maybe this myth is here to stay, which is probably the only factual thing about it.
Note: American University journalism graduate paper submitted by Angelia Levy – March 2010
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