Friday, July 31, 2020

Major League Baseball’s Ordeal—The Bitter Strike of 1981

Note—Until this year’s Coronavirus shortened season, the 1981 Major League Baseball strike caused the longest disruption of games in history.  .
On July 31, 1981 a strike against Major League Baseball (MLB) ended after the loss of 713 games—38% of the regular season.  Negotiations between the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBA) were so bitter that MLB negotiator Ray Grebey and Players Association representative Marvin Miller refused to shake hands and pose with each other for a customary bury the hatchet photograph.  Each would have rather buried a hatchet in the other’s skull.
The relationship of Baseball to its employees had been bitter almost from the very beginning of the National League.  Owners regarded players as virtual chattel bound indefinitely by iron-clad personal service contracts that forbad players from seeking higher pay at other teams.  The result was an abnormally low pay scale which kept all but a handful of stars in near poverty and gave the stars not much more.  Bitter players sporadically struck individual teams without success, usually the so called ringleaders were banned for life from the sport.
As a result the Players’ League was formed in 1890 with most of the National League’s top stars.  Although the league had a successful season, it was under-funded and collapsed sending most of its players back to the NL with their tails between their legs and worse off than ever.  Would-be rivals of the NL like the American Association, American League, and Federal League took advantage of player discontent to lure stars to their start-up challengers.  Only the AL survived and was eventually accepted as a peer by the NL and absorbed into the entity that became Major League Baseball.

The short-lived Federal League offered players an escape from from bondage to the National and American Leagues.  It's collapse indirectly let to the Supreme Court case which ruled that Major League Baseball was exempt from the provisions of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act handing unprecedented power to owners over players.
A fall out of the Federal League collapse left the players in worse shape than ever.  The owners of the former Federal League franchise in Baltimore attempted to purchase an MLB franchise.  They were not only rebuffed, they were blackballed.  They had the same result when they tried to obtain a franchise in the International League, then the top level of the minor leagues which fed players into the Bigs.  The Baltimoreans sued in Federal Court charging that MLB constituted an illegal Trust in restraint of trade.  They one a big victory at the Circuit Court level which was over turned on appeal.  Eventually the case found its way to the Supreme Court in 1922 where, in what may have been the worst ruling since Dred Scott, the Court held that that baseball “was not the kind of commerce” that Federal law was intended to regulate.  Alone of all American industries, Major League baseball was handed a golden exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
While the case was winding its way slowly through the courts, members of the stellar Chicago White Sox team chaffing under the notoriously tightfisted rule of Charles Comiskey demonstrated how damaging to baseball could be the players’ resentment.   The team, or at least key members of it, accepted a bribe from gambler Arnold Rothstein to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.  The resulting Black Sox Scandal nearly derailed the game as the National Pastime.
To resurrect the tattered reputation of the game, the owners appointed Federal Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as the Tsar-like Commissioner of Baseball.  From the owners point of view Landis was the perfect candidate.  He had won national acclaim for heavily fining Standard Oil of Indiana for attempting to fix freight rates, and was a rabid opponent of unionism, Socialism and radicalism in any form.  He had presided over World War I and Red Scare era trials of dissidents handing out draconian sentences and frequently stretching the law to do it.  He presided over the trial of 101 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) leadership for sedition, sending all to prison for long terms.  He was also a devoted baseball fan who had maneuvered to avoid an earlier attempt to challenge organized baseball on anti-trust ground in a 1914 suit brought by the Federal League.  Most significantly he was the presiding judge at Federal trial of the disgraced White Sox players.

A proven anti-labor union buster and the presiding judge in the Blsck Sox Scandal trial Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was picked as the powerful first Commissioner of Baseball.  He was the owners' creature from the begining.
Although Landis theoretically represented the interests of all baseball, including players and fans, in fact at least on issues surrounding player salaries, working conditions, and ability offer their services freely to any team, he was steadfastly the owners’ man.  He ruled the game until his death in 1944 blocking all reform.
It wasn’t until Landis was dead and Ford Frick was Commissioner that players tried to form their first organization since Landis crushed the National Baseball Players Association back in 1922.  In 1952 the MLBPA was formed with highly respected Cleveland Indian pitcher Bob Feller as its first—and as it turned out—only President.
Under Feller the MLBPA attempted to function as a professional association advocating for improved conditions attempting to set up programs for retired and destitute members.  However the owners flatly refused to deal with them or modify any of the terms of employment that bound players to the whim of the teams that literally owned them. 
In 1959 the organization decided it was time to get more aggressive.  It eliminated the executive presidency and brought in a professional Executive Director to lead it.  They really took the plunge to becoming a real labor union seven years later in 1966 when Marvin Miller, a former United Steelworkers economist, lead negotiator, and business agent was brought on board.
Miller meant business and set about to make the MPBLA one of the strongest unions in America.  Broadcaster Red Barber would later categorize him with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as one of the most important figures in modern era baseball.  Certainly he shook things up.
In just two years Miller obtained the first collective bargaining agreement with the owners which raised the minimum pay—usually for rookies and journeymen utility players—for the first time in twenty years from $6,000 per season to $10,000.  That won the players’ undying loyalty and built unshakeable solidarity.
Next, in 1970 Miller won arbitration.  Previously when a player and his owner failed to reach agreement on terms for a new contract, the dispute would be referred to the Commissioner, the owner’s creature, who naturally tended to always side with them.  Arbitration took it to an independent arbiter who picked between the two sides final offers.  Increasingly the arbitrators found for underpaid veteran players.  And the owners seeing that they had a lot to lose in the winner-takes-all system became more flexible in their negotiations.  Salaries for veteran players started to rise.
Arbitration paid off in a big way in 1974 when Oakland A’s owner Charles Finley refused to honor a contractual agreement to pay a $50,000 insurance premium for his star pitcher Catfish Hunter.  The arbiter ruled that Finley had thus voided the contract and allowed Hunter to become a free agent.  The pitcher then was able to sign with the New York Yankees for a then astonishing 5-year, $3.5 million contract.  That whetted the appetite of plays for effective free agency.

Curt Flood and Players Association Executive Director Marvin Miller.
Curt Flood had famously sued MLB with the support of the players union claiming that the reserve clause which kept the “owning team” in control of a player for a solid year after his contract was up, meaning that the player could be kept from playing with any team without the original team’s consent, was an anti-trust violation.  The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the admittedly shaky ground of the anti-trust provision.
After the victory with Hunter, Miller encouraged two other players, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the succeeding year without signing a contract. Then both players filed grievance arbitration. The players won the arbitration with a ruling that both had played out their obligations to their teams and were free agents.  The notorious reserve clause was dead and the era of free agency was ushered in.
With victory after victory under his belt, Miller was cordially hated by the owners, but they seemed powerless against the union.  These years were punctuated with short work stoppages—strikes in 1972 which lasted 13 days and in 1980  plus two spring training two lockouts, in 1973 and 1976.
So the table was set for an epic confrontation in 1981.  The owners sought protections from the effects of free agency.  In particular they sought compensation for losing a free agent player to another team—a player selected from the signing team’s roster not including 12 protected players. The union held that any form of compensation would undermine the value of free agency.
With negotiations at an impasse the union Executive Board set a May 31 strike deadline.  This was extended while a union complaint of unfair labor practices was heard by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Finally, on June 15 the players walked out.
Owners were stunned when most of the sporting press and fans seemed to take the side of the players.  They could not believe that they were not viewed as beloved community leaders instead of as flinty hearted capitalists.  A Sport Illustrated cover screamed “Strike! The Walkout the Owners Provoked.”

These two New York Post stories reflected the heavy economic impact of the strike and the disappointment of fans.
But as the strike wore on, fans became restless.  And cities took a big economic hit.  An estimated $146 million was lost in player salaries, ticket sales, broadcast revenues, and concession revenues. The players lost $4 million a week in salaries while the owners suffered a total loss of $72 million.
Faced with the possible loss of the entire season a compromise, which most considered favorable to the players, was finally reached.  Teams that lost a premium free agent could be compensated by drawing from a pool of players left unprotected from all of the clubs rather than just the signing club and players agree to restricting free agency to players with six or more years of major league service.  Miller had never really wanted unlimited free agency anyway fearing that a glut of players on the market would drive compensation down.

Pirate picher Luis Tiant reads about the end of the strike.
Play resumed with the delayed All Star Game in Cleveland on August 8.  Because the game was moved from its traditional mid-week slot to a Sunday, a record attendance of 72,086 led owners to hope that fans would return to the game.  They were wrong.  Bitter fans stayed away in droves through the rest of the season and TV and radio audiences shrank.  Newspaper letter columns were filled with fans declaring that they were done with the game.  It took some years for the game to recover from fan disillusion.
Some of that disillusion was stoked by the slapped together play-off system used to determine teams for the World Series.  The leaders of the first half of the season would face the leaders of the second half of the season in a playoff.  In case the same team won both halves, it would face the team with the second best record.  But the system produced anomalies.  The Cincinnati Reds of the National League West and St. Louis Cardinals of the National League East each failed to make the playoffs despite having the two best full-season records in the National League that season.  On the other hand, the Kansas City Royals made the postseason despite owning the fourth-best full-season record in their division and posting a losing record overall.
Miller retired in 1982 but the union he built remained strong.
The MLBPA continued to frustrate the owners, particularly when they successfully proved in court that the owners and Commissioner were in collusion in attempting to circumvent the free movement of players under free agency.  The collusion may also have affected the outcome of both the regular season series and World Series of 1985, ’86, and ’87.  Owners were fined a staggering $64.5 million and had to compensate player for losses related to multi-year contracts and lost bonuses which eventually cost them another $280 million.
There was a one day strike in August of ’85 and owners locked out player for early spring training in 1990.
In 1994 players struck on August 12 wiping out the rest of the season and the World Series.  The strike only ended the next spring when a U.S. District judge issued an injunction restoring terms and conditions of the expired agreement. That traumatic event did even more damage to baseball.
Eventually fans came back and baseball also bounced back from the steroid scandal that damaged the reputations of stars like Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens. 
Since then contracts have been renewed without strikes or lockouts, despite some bluster.  The union remains strong.  Baseball remains the only sport without an effective salary cap.  Player incomes and team profits are at an all-time high.  Meanwhile the other major American sports—Football, Basketball, and Hockey have all had substantial labor turmoil—largely due to weak unions.

The Baseball Hall of Fame's Twitter announcement of the election of Marvin Miller in December 2019 on his eighth appearance on the ballot.
And what of Marvin Miller?  He died on November 27, 2012 in New York City at the age of 95.  Owners successfully fought repeated efforts to put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame despite his undisputed impact on the game until a re-organized Modern Baseball Era Committee finally elected him in December 2019, his eighth appearance on the ballot.  He was slated to be inducted with the  Class of 2020 this summer but the ceremony has been indefinitely postponed due the Coronavirus.   

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Unveiling the Arc de Triomphe 22 Years After Honoree’s Final Defeat

The Arc de Triomphe today on the Place de Charles de Gaulle.

In many ways the ceremonial inauguration of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (Triumphant Arch of the Star) on July 29, 1836 was a peculiar affairThe man that the epic monument was built to honor, Napoléon Bonaparte, had suffered his ultimate defeat and exile 21 years earlier and had been dead for 15 years.  Work on the victory arch that he had first ordered constructed at the height of his power in 1806 had dragged on for years and then was suspended by the Bourbon Restoration under Louis XVIII. 
But Louis Philippe I, son of the former Duc de Orléans, and thus a member of the cadet branch of the House of Bourbon, had served with distinction in the army of Revolutionary France and after a period of exile had returned to favor.  He carefully maneuvered his way to being named King of the French in 1830 after the abdication of the unpopular Charles X.  Now he ruled as a popular liberal monarch with support from all but the most hidebound royalists, many former Bonapartists, and, for the time being, the common people of Paris.  The king wanted to restore the former glory of France and have a national monument enshrining its greatness.  He ordered work on the arch resumed in 1833 and that it be completed essentially as originally intended.  So it was that a Bourbon king was on hand for the gala inauguration of a Bonapartist memorial.
But Louis Philippe may have been onto something.  The French yearned for the return to past glories, Beyond Napoléon it quickly became a national symbol and remains one to this day.  And along with the Eifel Tower it is one of the most internationally familiar images of Paris.
Napoléon commissioned the Arch in 1806 right after one of his greatest victories, Austerlitz at which he crushed Russian and Hapsburg armies resulting in the end of the ancient Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the destruction of the Third Coalition against France. 
He had in mind, of course the triumphal arches of ancient Rome which dated back to Roman Republic when victorious generals were granted triumphs by the Senate—the right to enter the Capitol at the head of their Legions for a parade in front of the citizens and the presentation of the traditional crown of laurel.  The victor, at his own expense, was allowed to erect an arch then known as a fornix. The earliest arches were apparently temporary structures, perhaps made of wood.  By the time of the arches constructed for Lucius Steritinus in 196 BCE for his victories in Hispania (Spain) and over Scipio Africanus in 190 BCE on the Capitoline Hill they were solid, permanent masonry constructions festooned with statuary and bas relief commemorating the victory.  No examples of these Republican arches remained in the early 18th Century.
Beginning with Augustus triumphs were reserved for Emperors lest generals become too popular and challenge the rule of the Caesars—which in fact would largely become the history of the later Empire.  The Senate alone could confer a Triumph and paid for the construction of the structures now referred to as arcus.  They were no longer gates in a wall, as was usual earlier, but free standing monuments usually straddling an important roads under which the Emperor and his Legions would march.

The Arch of Titus in Rome was the inspiration for  the Arc de Triomphe.
Several triumphal arches were built, but only three survived in Rome including the Arch of Titus which famously commemorated the destruction of Jerusalem complete with carved images of sacking the Temple and carrying off the sacred Menorah.  The largest of the survivors was the Arch of Constantine erected in 315 A.D.. 
Napoléon, having campaigned successfully in Italy twice and allowing himself to be declared first the President of the Republic of Italy in 1802 and King of Italy in 1805, knew about the triumphal arches in Rome, although he had not visited the city.  Like many educated Europeans of the era he was heavily influenced by neo-classical design inspired by the Romans.  Specifically he instructed his new arch in Paris be modeled on the Arch of Titus, but on a much grander scale.
The Emperor picked a location on the Right Bank of the Seine within the old walls of the city at the head of the Champs-Élysées, one of the very few wide public boulevards that cut through the old city, notorious for the narrowest and most meandering streets in EuropeMedieval slums had to be cleared to create the Place de l’Étoile, the public plaza on which the monument would sit.  Then it took two years just to lay a foundation.

The wood and canvas mock-up of the Arc for Napoleon's entry into Paris in 1810. 
When Napoléon wanted to triumphantly enter the city in 1810 after a string of victories and to celebrate his dynastically important marriage to Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, the arch itself was barely started and a wooden model had to be erected.
The original architect, Jean Chalgrin, died in 1811 and the work was taken over by Jean-Nicolas Huyot.  He envisioned a classic free standing monumental arch 164 feet high, 148 ft. wide, and 72 ft. deep with a central vault 61 ft. high and 27 ft. wide.  It was to be richly ornamented with bas relief and four monumental main sculptural groups on each of the Arc’s pillars.  These were commissioned from famed sculptors as the Arc was being raised and represented four historically important developments starting the with Revolution of 1792 and ending with the Peace of 1815.   The sculptures are:
Le Départ de 1792 (or La Marseillaise), by François Rude celebrating   the creation the First Republic. Above the citizens is the winged Liberty.   
Le Triomphe de 1810, by Jean-Pierre Cortot celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn and features Napoléon, crowned by the Goddess of Victory.
La Résistance de 1814, by Antoine Étex commemorates the resistance to the Allied armies during the War of the Sixth Coalition.
La Paix de 1815, also by Étex commemorates the Treaty of Paris.
Six reliefs on the façade include:

Les funérailles du général Marceau (General Marceau’s burial), by P. H. Lamaire (South façade, right)
La bataille d’Aboukir (The Battle of Aboukir), by Bernard Seurre (South façade, left)
La bataille de Jemappes (The Battle of Jemappes), by Carlo Marochetti (East façade)
Le passage du pont d’Arcole (The Battle of Arcole), by J. J. Feuchère (North façade, right).
La prise d’Alexandrie, (The Fall of Alexandria), by J. E. Chaponnière (North façade, left)
La bataille d’Austerlitz (The Battle of Austerlitz), by J. F. T. Gechter (West façade)
In addition several great battles of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were engraved on the attic,  scores of other French victories were carved under the great arches on the inside façades, and on the inner façades of the small side arches are the names of the military leaders of the French Revolution and Empire.  All of this stopped with Napoléon’s first exile.  None of the battles after his return from Elba were mentioned.
Small wonder that Louis VXIII stopped work on the Arc.  Perhaps the greater wonder was that he did not order the incomplete monument razed.  Perhaps he feared the wrath of the Paris mob which still celebrated the Revolution, admired Napoléon, and was deeply resentful of the Bourbon restoration.

The Bourbon Louis Philippe I, King of the French, completed  Napoléon's Arch to promote national unity, French glory, and to appeal to the Paris mob.  It worked--for a while.
As for Louis-Philippe, he reaped the benefits of popularity for completing the Arc and attempting to restore French glory.  He was ready to go even further.  He had been cultivating good relations with Britain, which had staunchly backed Charles X and the senior Bourbon line and which distrusted Louis-Philippe’s moderate and then  popular rule.  The King of the French needed the British to counteract the rising power of Prussia and the German States as well as the new Austro-Hungarian Empire created by the Hapsburgs, both traditional enemies of the French.  The reconciliation with the British persuaded them to allow the repatriation of Napoléon’s remains from St. Helena in 1840.  On December 15 of that year a state funeral was held beginning with a procession from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Élysées, across the Place de la Concorde to the Esplanade des Invalides and then to the cupola in St Jérôme's Chapel.   The body remained there until the tomb designed by Louis Visconti was completed in 1861and his remains were placed in a sarcophagus in the crypt under the dome at Les Invalides.
Louis-Philippe, no longer popular, was overthrown in the wave of revolutions that swept Europe in 1848 and was replaced by Louis Napoléon, the old Emperor’s nephew who was at first elected President of the new Republic and who after a suitable interval was proclaimed Emperor Napoléon III of the Second Empire.  The new boss had grand plans for the modernization of Paris and the Arc de Triomphe and sat at the heart of them.  He appointed Georges-Eugène Haussmann as Prefect of the Seine in 1853 tasked with modernizing the Paris city center, including the construction of broad boulevards to bring “air and light” into the rabbit warren of ancient twisting streets.  Conveniently, those boulevards would also be too broad to barricade in case of insurrection and provide clear firing range for artillery.
Five of those boulevards would join the already existing and broadened Champs-Élysées to radiate from the Place de l’Étoile.  That placed the Arc as the center piece of the Axe historique (historic axis), a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares on a route which runs from the courtyard of the Louvre to the through the Arc and up the Avenue de la Grande Armée.

The Prussian Victory Parade of 1871,
Napoléon III’s reign and dreams of new French glory came to a bitter end at Sedan in 1870 when the extremely ill Emperor was trapped with his army by the Prussians and their allies and forced into a humiliating surrender.  At the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War the peace terms dictated by Otto von Bismarck to the enfeebled new Republican government included a victory parade through the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Élysées for Prussian troops despite the fact that they had never taken the city during the war.  It was national humiliation on a grand scale.
In the tumultuous aftermath of the war, the Paris Commune arose only to be ultimately crushed by the National Guard resulting in a blood bath for the working people of Paris and a period of brutal repression.
But as the conservative leaders of the Third Republic desperately needed to revive patriotic unity to a nation shattered by the war and the defeat of the Commune.  Eventually, reluctantly and fearfully because of its association with Revolution in the streets, the government embraced Bastille Day as the national patriotic holiday.  But they were careful to downplay its revolutionary implications, instead making a grand military parade to restore the glory of the Army and the respect of the people the centerpiece of the annual celebration in Paris.  Naturally those grand parades, which were interrupted by World War II and resumed thereafter, used the Arc de Triomphe as its background.
In 1882 the Republic had a monumental sculpture by Alexandre Falguière top the Arc.  In what was probably an act of defiance and a direct reference to chariot sculpture atop the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Le triomphe de la Révolution (the Triumph of the Revolution), it depicted a chariot drawn by horses preparing “to crush Anarchy and Despotism”.  It was a slap at the Communards on one hand and the Prussians and the newly unified German Empire on the other.  Perhaps symbolically, statue which was cast concrete and built of inferior materials deteriorated rapidly and had to be removed after only four years.
By the late 1880’s France had recovered from the long depression that followed the Franco-Prussian War.  It was once again the undisputed cultural capital of Europe, and its scientific and engineering accomplishments were second to none in the world.  It was La Belle Époque and the French celebrated with the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and its dramatic symbol, the Eifel Tower.  While the new tower dominated—and continues to dominate—the Paris sky line, it did not displace the Arc in the hearts of Parisians.

Flying through the Arc to celebrate victory in World War I.
At the close of World War I, which bled the French of nearly a whole generation of young men, the Arc took on renewed significance.  The French held their own grand victory parade under it in 1919.  On August 7, 1919, three weeks after the victory parade Warrant Officer Charles Godefroy famously and without authorization flew his Nieuport bi-plane through the arch.  Then on Armistice Day 1920 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with its eternal flame was dedicated under the Arc making it for the first time almost holy ground.
Subsequently all military parades have gone around, not through, the Arc so as not to trample on the Unknown.  Even Hitler when he came to Paris in 1940 to stage his own victory parade in front of the once again humbled French, followed that custom.
In 1944, however with the Allies closing in on the city, Der Führer frantically ordered Paris to be burned and especially that the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and other symbols of French culture and pride be destroyed.  The German officers charged with the task however, who had spent most of the war in Paris and come to love the city and refused to carry out the orders.  After an insurrection by French Resistance fighters in the city began on August 20, elements of elements of General Leclerc’s Free French 2nd Armored Division with American-built Sherman Tanks, half-tracks, and half-ton trucks entered parts of the city on August 24.  The next day German troops in the city formally surrendered and Charles de Gaulle, President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic arrived on the scene to issue a stirring radio address.  On July 25 Leclerc’s division led by de Gaulle in uniform and on foot, staged a formal entrance and victory parade around the Arc and down the Champs-Élysées.  Four days later the American 28th Infantry Division, who had assembled in the Bois de Boulogne the previous night, paraded 24-abreast down the Avenue Hoche to the Arc de Triomphe, then down the Champs Élysées surrounded by huge, adoring crowds.

Charles de Gaulle's 1944 victory walk.
In 1958 de Gaulle returned to power as the President of the new French Fifth Republic during the Algerian Crisis. After painfully extracting France from its former North African Department and enduring a terrorist bombing camping by settlers who felt betrayed, de Gaulle pursued his aims of restoring French Grandeur and preeminence in Europe, striking an independent note in defiance to both the “Anglo-Saxon” alliance of the United States and Britain on one hand and the Soviet Block on the other.  He beefed up French defense forces and made France the fourth member of the nuclear club.  He retained membership in NATO but withdrew French forces from its common command.  A super nationalist he made regular use of the Arc de Triomphe as a symbolic backdrop.  The Place de l’Étoile was renamed the Place Charles de Gaulle.
In 1965 and ’66 decades of soot and grime were removed from the Arc in a deep cleaning and the surface was bleached giving it the gleaming white appearance that it has been able to maintain since coal has been curtailed as a fuel for industry, housing, and rail.
In lengthening of the Champs-Élysées, a new modern arch, the Grande Arche de la Défense, was built in 1982, completing the line of monuments that forms Paris’s Axe historique.
The Arc de Triomphe long held its place as the largest victory arch in the world but was surpassed by Mexico City’s Monumento a la Revolución in 1939 and Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea completed in 1982.

Modern French power is still on defiant display annually at Bastile Day Parade, the oldest and one of the largest annual military parades in the world.
Millions of visitors see, and are photographed around the Arc de Triomphe every year.  It was possible to go inside and visit the small museum in the attic accessible by elevator, but that has been suspended due to the Corona Virus pandemic.  American tourists are banned from the county due to our Third World response to the deadly emergency.  Perhaps the French can now regard the Arc de Triomphe as a symbol of a victory over Covid-19.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Way Before Black Lives Matter New York’s Black Silent Parade Stood up to Racist Killings

Behind drummers the NAACP's James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B, Du Bois, center, lead the Silent Parade in New York City in 1917.  

On July 28, 1917 the Silent Parade in New York City was an orderly but mute demonstration by as many as 10,000 African-Americans in protest to the continued brutal onslaught of lynching across the Jim Crow South and border states as well as the anti-Black pogrom that killed as many as 200 and displaced thousands in East St Louis, Illinois that May. 
It may be obscure today but it was one of the most significant events in the creation of a modern, Black led civil rights movement and the direct ancestor of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I was vaguely aware of the Silent Parade and have mentioned it in passing in a couple of posts, including a history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a bio of W. E. B. Du Bois, but I was not clear on the time line and particulars.  Now I am delighted to share what I learned.
Racial tensions in America had been ratcheting up for decades particularly after the complete abandonment of Reconstruction Era reforms in the South and the disenfranchisement of Southern blacks in the Jim Crow Era.  Hardening racial attitudes were spreading to Northern cities and states as well.   The rising wave of lynching was just one of the forms of violent intimidation used to keep Blacks in their subservient places.  Although the old Ku Klux Klan had disappeared and its reincarnation not taken root, night riding, vigilantism, and pop up mobs were all on the rise.  Kidnappings, beatings, rapes, arsons, and deportations were common. 
Even more troubling, was the rise in race riots, most of them in Northern or borders states, especially as the Great Migration began to get underway as oppressed Southern Blacks relocated to North seeking factory work in booming war industries.   In those days race riots meant one thing—a bloodthirsty rampage of Whites against the Black residents of their communities.  Although in isolated incidents some Blacks had fought back in self-defense there had never been a riot in which Blacks targeted White communities.

The 1917 East St. Louis Race Riot spurred African Americans to new action.
The riot which erupted in East St. Louis on May 28, 1917 was just the most recent and one of the bloodiest.  Whites angered at Blacks taking jobs at local factories staged a mass protest meeting followed by a march by at least 3,000 into the downtown district where they spread out attacking any Blacks they encountered, burning homes, and looting businesses.  It took the Illinois National Guard to quash the violence, though tensions remained high.
Some efforts at investigating the causes of the disturbance were made and some officials gave lip service to community reconciliation.  But it was too little, too late.
On July 2, a carload of white men drove through a Black neighborhood and fired several shots into a group of men standing outside in the oppressive summer heat—exactly what we would call a drive by shooting today.  As the car sped away crowds gathered and milled about. An hour later, two Police detectives and a reporter were among four men in a car that cruised the same area.  The detectives may have displayed weapons.  Suspecting it was the same car involved in the first shooting or another on the same mission, someone opened fire on their car, killing one officer instantly and mortally wounding the other. 
Thousands of white spectators gathered to view the detectives’ bloodstained automobile then rampaged through the black section of town. They cut the water hoses of the Fire Department, burned blocks of the city, and shot residents as they tried to escape the flames.  Police and National Guardsmen called to quell the violence instead either stood aside and let it run its course or in many instances actively joined the rioters. 
After the rioters simply exhausted themselves and almost 6000 Black survivors were turned into homeless refugees the liberal St. Louis Post Dispatch editorially concluded:
All the impartial witnesses agree that the police were either indifferent or encouraged the barbarities, and that the major part of the National Guard was indifferent or inactive. No organized effort was made to protect the Negroes or disperse the murdering groups. The lack of frenzy and of a large infuriated mob made the task easy. Ten determined officers could have prevented most of the outrages. One hundred men acting with authority and vigor might have prevented any outrage.
The breathtaking scope of the violence and a staggering death toll galvanized Black outrage across the country.  Various key players sprang into action.

Journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B Wells came to East St. Louis to investigate and report for the Chicago Daily Defender.
Anti-lynching activist and Chicago Daily Defender journalist Ida B. Wells rushed to the stricken city to investigate.  She concluded that 50-150 had been killed in days of rioting and its aftermath.  Investigators for the NAACP placed the dead in the range of 100-200. A latter Congressional Investigation Committee—influenced by several Southern members said the death toll could not be determined but gave credence to local official reports of 8 White dead and 38 Blacks.  Some modern scholars have estimated that as many as 400 may have died immediately or of wounds within weeks.  Most accounts now settle on a rough guess of 200.
Well’s accounts were spread across the county by the issues of the Defender distributed nationally by Pullman Porters.  Local Black press picked up the story. 

Black nationalist Marucs Garvey used the East St. Louis race riots to promote his vision of an independent Black nation as a refuge from rampant White racism and violence.  Many were receptive to the message.
Black separatist and Nationalist Marcus Garvey declared that the riot was “one of the bloodiest outrages against mankind” and a “wholesale massacre of our people….This is no time for fine words, but a time to lift one’s voice against the savagery of a people who claim to be the dispensers of democracy.”  He also argued for self-defense and ultimately the establishment of an independent nation, probably in the Caribbean as a refuge for the African diaspora in AmericaThis combination of militancy and a sort of Black Zionism had a lot of appeal to many who lost all hope of fair treatment in the United States.  Whites were torn between stark terror of a militant Black in a uniform at the head of a mass movement and a vague hope that Garvey could become an ally in removing Blacks entirely from the country.
For the NAACP the East St. Louis riots presented both a test and an opportunity.  The only national civil rights organization was only eight years old and not well established.  Largely the creation of White liberals it still was still dominated by them.  All of the national officers and board members were white except for Du Bois, the Black intellectual and editor of The Crisis and probably the most significant national Black leader since Frederick Douglass.  The white leadership was well meaning but an impediment to making the new organization an authentic voice for Black aspirations. 
Most of the organization’s chapters were in the Northeast and split between white liberals and the small Black educated elite.  It had little representation in the South where the overwhelming majority of Blacks still lived, or among poor and working class Northern Blacks.  The organization had first earned national attention for its protests and picketing of showings of D. W. Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan paean Birth of a Nation in 1915. 
It lately had become increasingly vocal in protest to the policies of President Woodrow Wilson.  During his three-way race for the Presidency against William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 Wilson had made vaguer promises of enacting anti-lynching legislation and in favor of some civil rights protections.  Most Blacks who could vote were still loyal Republicans in gratitude for the end of slavery and the stab at Reconstruction.  But in some Northern cities Blacks were being successfully courted by local Democratic machines.  Wilson made promises in hopes for a sliver of the Black vote.  But he was the son of a Virginia mother who was an unreconstructed Confederate.  Upon election not only did he forget his promises about lynch protections, he scrapped what few shreds of Reconstruction era policies remained and introduced of segregation into all areas possible of federal government policy, workplaces, and hiring.
In his early reaction to the East St. Louis riots, Du Bois castigated Wilson for inaction on lynching and demanded action against spreading race riots.  Wilson did not even bother to respond. 

Portraits by Laura Wheeler Waring
Du Bois knew that more dramatic action was required to both rally Blacks nationally and build the NAACP.  He found a new ally in the second Black elected to a leadership position in the organization, Second Vice President James Weldon Johnson.  Johnson was a perfect example of the Black elite who Du Bois believed would raise the race. He was a lawyer, Republican Politician, diplomat under Theodore Roosevelt, and a poet.  He had written Lift Every Voice and Sing which the Fisk University Singer would popularize as the “Black National Anthem.”  He would also soon become a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
It was Johnson who first proposed a silent protest march at an Executive Committee meeting of the NAACP Harlem branch shortly after the East St. Louis riot.  Du Bois heartily supported the plan.  Johnson himself was the prime organizer, seeing to all of the myriads of details needed to mobilize an action like no other before it.  He took care to reach out and include all classes of Black citizens utilizing the Churches, Black Women’s Clubs, trade union members, social and benevolent clubs and laborers.  He knew that to be effective the march had to be absolutely peaceful and dignified.  As he recruited marchers, he trained them in discipline.  Any hint of violence or disorder would not only discredit the action, but likely bring down a catastrophic police response.
As a result of all of that meticulous planning and organization thousands of African American citizens rallied at 59th Street beginning at noon on July 28.  By the one pm starting time, they were organized into perfectly organized ranks, long rows of marchers stretched across the street and spaced rank after rank in order that would have been the envy of any military parade.   They fell in behind an American flag and a line of dignitaries, clergymen, and leaders with Du Bois and Johnson font and center.
The parade swung smartly south on 5th Avenue the broad main thoroughfare leading to the heart of heart of Manhattan’s fashionable districts.  That was the same route taken by the 1915 Women’s Suffrage Parade organized by Carrie Chapman Catt and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and event that helped inspire this march and upon which it was partly modeled.

Women in the march wore white for the innocence of violence victims but the clothes were also an echo of Suffrage marchers.
Behind the leaders were rank upon rank of women and children decked out in white representing the purity and innocence of the victims of the riots.  It was also a tip of the hat to the Suffragists who had marched in white and was a symbolic linking of both struggles for the dignity of full citizenship rights.  Behind them came the men in their best black or somber colored suits.  The black was mourning for the victims.  The attitude was reserved dignity belying stereotypes of ragged idlers, ignorant laborers, and violent predators.  All marched in total and perfect silence.
Some carried professionally painted placards and banners with messages like:
Your hands are full of blood.
Thou Shalt Not Kill
Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?
We have fought for the liberty of white Americans in six wars; our reward was East St. Louis.
Police turned out in force, lining the parade route with batons in hand or exposed from under their long coats.  They had been told to expect violence from the marchers and had orders to disperse them at the first sign of trouble.  Behind them large crowds thronged the sidewalks.  Supporters and virulent opponents of the Parade were both out but probably outnumbered by the curious and bewildered.  Amid some cheers cruses and occasional objects were hurled at the marchers as they passed by stoically.

The men of the Parade.
The silence was finally broken with cheers by supporters when the parade ended at Madison Square.  There was no rally or fancy oration.  Du Boise, Johnson, and some of the clergy were interviewed quietly by the press.
Reactions in that press varied from outright hostility to mockery in many cases.  But some were impressed by the solemn dignity of the event.  The New York Times wrote, “one of the most quiet and orderly demonstrations ever witnessed.”
Was anything accomplished?  Not immediately.  The Wilson administration never acknowledged the protest and continued to vigorously pursue it segregationist policies even as it deployed Black troops to France and relied on Black workers in the humming defense industries and in agricultural production.  Both lynchings and race riots continued and the pace accelerated after the war as troops returned home and competed for jobs in a post-war slump.  1919 would be a banner year for race riots in cities like Chicago.  The revived Ku Klux Klan became an open power not only in the Old South but in Northern States like Indiana where it nearly took over state government.
On the other hand Black communities across the country took enormous pride in the event and many were inspired to action.  The civil rights approach of the NAACP gained support over the militant separatism of Marcus Garvey.  As an organization it grew and prospered and added chapters, including those in the South.   It would be the primary civil rights organization until a new movement arose after World War II.   
Blck Lives Matter marches like this one are a legacy of the Silent March.
Chad Williams, Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University and the author of Torchbearers of Democracy wrote of the long term significance in a Miami Herald op-ed on the 100th anniversary of the Parade in 2017:
The “Silent Protest Parade” marked the beginning of a new epoch in the long black freedom struggle. While adhering to a certain politics of respectability, a strategy employed by African-Americans that focused on countering racist stereotypes through dignified appearance and behavior, the protest, within its context, constituted a radical claiming of the public sphere and a powerful affirmation of black humanity. It declared that a “New Negro” had arrived and launched a black public protest tradition that would be seen in the parades of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter marches of today.