Texas, Day 6: Johnson City; chicken-fried steak and the LBJ Ranch

April 4, 2021 • 10:00 am

I had a full day in the Johnson City area yesterday. The plan: wake up, write a post or two, and then head half a block north to the Hill Country Cupboard for an early lunch (or late breakfast) of chicken-fried steak, the specialty of the house. Then on the the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, 15 miles west to see the Western White House and the LBJ Ranch.

For those of you unacquainted with this Southern (mostly Texan) treat, it’s a thin beef cutlet breaded and fried like chicken. It’s invariably served with cream gravy and a side of mashed potatoes. And they’re famous for being large, which is good because I’m eating only one meal a day. (Note: I’m not even pretending to eat healthy on this trip, so don’t food-shame me. I’ll have a juice cleanse when I return to wash the beef, fat, and other toxins out of my body.)

The venue for my meal:

It’s pretty much of a dive inside, with fiberboard walls and not much in the way of either light or ambience. But who cares if it proffers you an excellent chicken-fried steak?

What the menu says: not only is it the “world’s best” chicken-fried steak, but they’ve sold nearly 3 dozen!

Below is my lunch: chicken fried steak (regular size) with gravy, a big glop of homemade mashed potatoes (with lumps), and fried okra. The fried okra, tender, not slimy, and toothsome, was perhaps the best rendition of this vegetable I’ve ever had. As for the chicken-fried steak, it was very good, but not the best I’ve had (that would be at Hoover’s in Austin); and they should have used less gravy or put it on the side.

I washed this all down with sweet tea. It was a substantial lunch.

I then drove the 15 miles to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.  Here’s where it is, about 50 miles west of Austin in Texas’s “Hill Country”, one of the state’s most appealing parts.

The park has two parts bisected by the Pedernales River. One one side is the Visitors Center, a “model farm” from the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and a one-room schoolhouse where future President Lyndon Johnson went to school at four years old.

In the visitor’s center, which must be your first stop (you need a free pass to drive around the LBJ Ranch) are several items of interest. Here’s one, with the label.

Can you see his initials in the desk? It took me a while to find them.

Here they are!

Also on display, LBJ’s white Stetson Hat and cowboy boots. The boots are by Dan Post, and although they may be custom boots, specially made to fit LBJ, Dan Post isn’t known for making great boots. A President deserved better!

Near the visitor’s center is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, in which Park employees still work the original property as the residents did 150 to about 110 years ago. There are cows to milk and sheep to shear, and you can see displays of knitting, cooking, and gardening.

The rangers, dressed in period clothes, were very chatty and helpful. Given that there were surprisingly few visitors when I went yesterday, I got to talk a lot to the Park employees. Here’s the farm.

I think this is a Charolais cow, but I’m not sure. I am sure that a reader will know. It is a cute cow.

And a sheep, of what breed I know not:

Here’s a device inside the house that dates from about 1918. Can you guess what function this served on the farm? The ranger quizzed me, and I came close but didn’t quite get it. Answer at the bottom of the post.

This is LBJ’s first school, the Junction School, a one-room schoolhouse opened in 1910 and closed in 1947. Johnson went here as a four-year-old for only a few months before the school closed because of a whooping cough epidemic.

Johnson graduated from high school in Johnson City in 1924, when he was 16. He went on to graduate from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in San Marcos, and, as you’ll know if you read Caro’s biography (the best bio ever!), LBJ went on to teach in three places, including one where his pupils were all Mexican-Americans.

Below is LBJ’s birthplace, or rather a replica of it. He had it reconstructed as a sort of memento. As the National Park Service notes:

Lyndon Johnson took great pride in his heritage and his roots here in the Hill Country of Texas. In order to share that heritage with interested visitors, President Johnson hired architect J. Roy White of Austin, Texas in 1964 to reconstruct the birthplace home. President Johnson and Roy White relied on old photographs of the original birthplace house as well as family members’ memories to guide the project. The house represents how Lyndon Johnson wanted us to see his birthplace. Lyndon Johnson’s birthplace has the distinction of being the only presidential birthplace reconstructed, refurbished, and interpreted by an incumbent President.

The family burial plot sits on the north side of the Pedernales River. You can’t go into the plot, but you can go right up to the wall and see the graves of the Johnson family sitting peacefully under the large oaks. The two larger stones in the middle are the graves of LBJ and Lady Bird.

They rest side by side. Although LBJ had affairs, the impression one gets is that they were deeply devoted to each other. It saddens me that Lady Bird lived for 34 years after LBJ died in 1973, just four years after leaving the Presidency.

Lady Bird died at 95. Her tombstone is engraved with a flower, the symbol of her “Beautify America” campaign.

LBJ’s grave with the Presidential seal. Beset by heart problems, he died of a massive heart attack at only 64.

Below: cattle on the Johnson ranch, the descendants of ones bought by LBJ. He was quite proud of his herd, and had only Hereford cattle, which are tough, adaptable, and gain weight easily. I was told that all the cows and horses are tended by Park employees, and the farm is not a money-making venture. They do occasionally sell a calf.

LBJ tending his farm in 1954, when he was a U.S. Senator (a Democrat, of course):

A sign at the “Show Barn”, where animals were displayed but also taken care of: branded, hooves tended, and the like. How could I resist a visit with a cow?

Here are the two cows on display, a mother and calf. The mom is called “LBJ Intense Lady 373”, and the calf, named only #543, was born exactly a month before the picture was taken. (It weighed 84 pounds at birth!) As you see below, it already looks like a miniature cow.

Mom and calf.

Look at those lovely eyelashes on the calf!

When LBJ became President after JFK’s assassination in 1963, his ranch became the “Western White House,” where he spent about 20% of his time. It is a surprisingly modest place for a Presidential retreat, but does have certain accoutrements of power. One of them is a runway for his downsized version of Air Force One, called “Air Force One Half.” It’s a Lockheed JetStar VC-140. They had to build a 6000-foot concrete runway on the Ranch to enable it to land.

Johnson would usually fly on the big Air Force One to Austin or San Antonio, and then take this smaller jet or a Marine helicopter to the Ranch, a very short flight.

The plane now has a permanent place close to the Johnsons’ house: the Western White House.

The hanger for the plane doubled as a place where the Johnsons would show movies to visitors and listen to music. Here’s the official Juke Box (Juke Box One?) emblazoned with the Presidential seal.

And of course I was curious about what music the Prez liked. I was told by a ranger that these are the original records and songs. You can see that it’s pretty anodyne pop music from the era. I didn’t see any Beatles songs.

The family cars. LBJ favored Lincoln Continentals. The brown one belonged to Lady Bird, and the white to Lyndon. Note the license plates: both Lyndon and Lady Bird had the same initials. (So did their two daughters: Lynda Bird Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson.)

Here’s LBJ’s Continental with its “suicide doors” (read the text below):

And here’s the Western White House. As I said, it’s not the kind of impressive house you’d expect from a President, but Johnson liked to be folksy with his visitors, putting on barbecues and wearing casual clothes.

The house will be closed for a few more years while it’s being renovated, but you can take a virtual tour of the first floor at the National Park Site.

He even had an “aqua car” that could travel in land or on water, and he’d frighten visitors by driving them straight into the Pedernales river, pretending that he’d made a wrong turn.

The pool on the south side of the house. It was built to give LBJ exercise for his heart, but Lady Bird used it far more often.

The west side of the house.

Johnson installed “friendship stones” outside the house: distinguished visitors would be offered the chance to sign their names in a wet cement flagstone. Here are a couple of notables: the famous Air Force general Curtis LeMay and country singer Eddy Arnold.

Some of the original seven astronauts: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Leroy (Gordon) Cooper, Deke Slayton, and John Glenn.

Right across the street from the big house is a small house where the Secret Service agents assigned to LBJ and Lady Bird lived and worked:

And the small Pedernales river runs just across the street from the Western White House:

If you want to learn more about LBJ, I can’t recommend highly enough the wonderful four-volume biography by Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson. A fifth and last volume is in the works, and we all hope Caro, now 85, finishes his masterpiece before he “moves on.” It is the best biography of any sort that I know of, and, already over 3,000 pages long, is still a page-turner. Read it!


Answer to question above: The device at the Sauer-Beckmann farm is a cream separator, using centrifugal force to separate the milk from the cream, with the latter used to make butter.

McWhorter: Excerpt 6 from “The Elect”

March 31, 2021 • 12:30 pm

John McWhorter’s published the sixth installment of his upcoming book, The Elect, and you can read it free on Substack by clicking on the link below. But do consider subscribing.

This section is about the recent saturation of America with the history of slavery and its sequelae, which, McWhorter maintains, is just an intensification of what most people knew for several decades. He cites the popular t.v. series “Roots”, the movies “Django Unchained,” “12 Years a Slave,” and various books and museum exchibitions, though it’s clear that the pressing of slavery upon us has been intensified since the death of George Floyd. But the existence and horrors of slavery are not a secret, nor was the slaveholding of people like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

A couple of excerpts:

Ta-Nehisi Coates urges “the end of scarfing hot dogs on the Fourth of July while denying the facts of our heritage.” But this is the divorcé who can’t stand seeing his ex have a good time. To tar today’s America as insufficiently aware of slavery is more about smugness and noble victimhood than forging something new and needed.

To wit: is there any degree of saturation that slavery could reach into the American consciousness that would satisfy The Elect, such that they would allow that a battle had been won?

Yes, a degree of saturation that would mandate reparations for African-Americans, like the ones just enacted in Evanston, Illinois. But we’ll talk about that on another day.

To hope that every American – white everyman in South Dakota, Indian-American Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Korean immigrant grandma, American-born Latina hospice care supervisor, daughter of Bosnian immigrants working on her social work degree, Republican councilwoman in Texas – will be wincing thinking about plantations while biting into their Independence Day weenie, even in a metaphorical sense, is utterly pointless. Pointless in that it will never happen, and pointless in that it doesn’t need to.

I can guarantee that psychologically, black America does not need their fellow countrymen to be quite that sensitized. A poll would reveal it instantly, as would just asking some black people other than the Elect ones, and the reader likely readily senses that. I can also guarantee that profound social change can happen without the entire populace being junior scholars about racist injustice. Such change has been happening worldwide for several centuries.

But Elect ideology requires you to classify what I just wrote as blasphemy, and claim endlessly that slavery is a big secret in America. . .To be Elect is to insist that America hushes up slavery. This is a falsehood. It endlessly distracts minds that would be better put to addressing real problems.

McWhorter goes on to say that he has no objection to removing statues and honorifics from Confederates or even from racist notables like Woodrow Wilson, but he draws the line at people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He highlights the problems, which many of us have pondered, with damning figures of the past by the moral standards of the present, and gives two examples:

In the future, being pro-choice may be deemed immoral. The celebration of any conglomeration of cells chemically set to become a Homo sapiens as “a person” may spread to intellectuals of influence and become as intelligentsia-chic as Electness is now. How do we feel about people of 2100 advocating that educators not celebrate the achievements of people in 2020 because they were not opposed to abortion?

Or, why are today’s Elect not roasting Barack Obama for his only having espoused gay marriage via “evolving”? Note that we are only to pretend not to understand history and circumstance when the figures are white.

. . . Obama was dissimulating as a thoroughly sensible political feint, and The Elect pardon Obama for it, allowing an “evolution” of a kind that could never rehabilitate other figures in their minds – i.e. Washington freeing his slaves. Apparently Obama’s (supposed) homophobia was okay because he is “intersectional” – as in, because his brown skin placed him under the thumb of white hegemony, it’s okay that he was homopho … but see? There is no logic here.

I’ll give one more excerpt and then pass on; there’s a lot more to read in the piece, including a thoughtful discussion of how Critical Race Theory and anti-racism affects people’s view of their “identity”, and why there are so few books by black writers that aren’t about race.  But I have tacos to eat, and miles to go before I scarf.

To be Elect is to insist that figures in the past might as well be living now, and that they thus merit the judgments we level upon present-day people, who inhabit a context unknown to those who lived before. As many kids would spontaneously understand, this is false. As to whether adults know something they don’t, I suggest trying to explain to a fifth-grader the case for yanking down the Lincoln Memorial.

To the extent that no one would look forward to having to kabuki their way through that, we know that this witch-hunting against long-dead persons is a distraction from doing real things for people who need help here in the present.

New Polish law chills the work of historians; forbids accusing Poles of complicity with Nazis against Jews in WWII

February 17, 2021 • 9:30 am

In 2018, the right-wing Polish government, apparently eager to burnish their image, passed a law forbidding anyone from “unjustly and incorrectly blaming Poles for crimes committed by the Germans” during World War II. In other words, if you accused Poles of helping the Germans kill Jews, or of doing it on their own, you were breaking the law—unless you could prove that statement with 100% assurance. The penalty for purveying accusations of complicity against Poles that can’t be “proven” was up to three years in prison, but the prison term has since been dropped after an international outcry led by Israel. However, the law still applies, and applies worldwide, which is why one of the accused in the present case is a Polish-Canadian. Whether Poland would try to extradite foreign historians who violate the law isn’t clear!

Now there’s no doubt that many Poles did indeed kill Jews on their own (the Polish police were notorious for this), or helped the Germans with pogroms (viz., the Einsatzgruppen), as well as turning in Jews to the authorities, which of course would lead to their extermination. Some took lots of money from Jews to help them escape or hide them. There is no doubt that many Poles were complicit in the Holocaust, and this is historically documented. (Many Poles also helped the Jews during the war; I’m not implying that every Pole hated every Polish Jew!)

Nevertheless, Poland’s ruling “Law and Justice” party is trying to use the law to perpetrate injustice. The latest manifestation of this form of Holocaust denial, as described in the Guardian article below, is the prosecution of two Polish historians for accusing a Pole of having aided the Nazis by turning in Jews to authorities during the war. Click on screenshot to read.

The story is a bit complicated. Two Polish historians, Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski (who works in Ottawa) mention in Night Without End, a new two-volume history, that a Pole, Edward Malinowski, denounced 16 hiding Jews to the authorities, who immediately killed those Jews. This comes, however, from the testimony of a woman, Estera Siemiatycka who Malinowski saved.  Her story changed after she left Poland, when she claimed not only that she had paid Malinowski to help her, but also asserted that he denounced 16 other Jews in hiding. Malinowski was tried by the Communists after the war for denouncing Jews, but because Siemiatycka hadn’t yet recanted, found him not guilty.

The historians Engelking and Grabowski present all these stories in their book, but conclude, based on their own research, that Malinowski was indeed guilty of denouncing Jews.  Because of this conclusion, Malinowski’s niece, Filomena Leszczyńska, sued the historians under the new law. She was supported by The Polish League Against Defamation, which is essentially part of the ruling Law and Justice party.

Apparently because historians’ judgment is not good enough (you have to be 100% sure, apparently, and who ever is in matters like this?), the court found Engelking and Grabowski guilty, ordering them to apologize to Leszczyńska (there was no fine or jail term). They refused, and both sides appealed the case to the next highest court. This could go on for a long time, and if the Supreme Court ultimately finds the historians guilty, and they still refuse to apologize, they could be fined or have their books censored.  To be sure, the Court said that the law wasn’t meant to stifle academic research; as the Guardian notes:

Leszczyńska and her backers took a different legal route in their case against Engelking and Grabowski, claiming that the historians had violated her personal rights. The court conceded that the claimant’s right to “respect for the memory of a relative” had been infringed, but threw out the other claims and did not award damages, stating that the judgment was not intended to stifle academic research. The historians are appealing the judgment.

That claim that the government didn’t intend to stifle research is pure cant, for what other purpose would it have than to obscure inconvenient truths?

In the end, whatever your interpretation of the law, two historians were still taken to court, essentially for dissing Malinowski. And others have argued (and I concur) that this will indeed have a chilling effect on historical research. During the murky days of WWII, how often do we have watertight proof that a Pole was indeed complicit in the persecution of Jews? Some criticism of the law:

“I’ve got real doubts about this judgment,” says lawyer Michał Jabłoński, who acted for the defence. “It is dangerous for freedom of speech and academic research. It is unprecedented that the court decides which historical source is reliable instead of researchers. This judgment requires that testimonies of survivors are verified before they are published anywhere, that researchers have to be 100% sure that testimonies are accurate before they publish conclusions, especially if they regard someone’s misconduct. In the view of the court, the existence of other sources that are contrary to a survivor’s testimony should prevent researchers from publishing their research if it interferes with someone’s personal rights. Such a standard makes historical research a dangerous job, in fact impossible, as in most cases survivors’ testimonies can’t be verified.”

International organisations and academics have also been swift to condemn the ruling. Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem said it was “deeply disturbed by its implications.” Sascha Feuchert, director of the Arbeitsstelle Holocaustliteratur at the University of Giessen, Germany, said: “For many incidents in the Holocaust, we only have the testimonies from survivors. Of course they need to be checked and discussed in academic debates as far as possible. But this court ruling and its conclusions not only threaten the foundations of research based on survivor testimony, it could also be a gift for Holocaust deniers.”

. . . Mikołaj Grynberg, a writer who has documented Polish-Jewish accounts in his books, believes that the state’s agenda to promote Polish heroism goes against historical truth. “The aim is to feel good and be a chosen people – we are the only nation that has only noble people among us,” he says. “That’s adolescent thinking and bad news that we are not growing to be an adult country. So it will stay like this for years.”

The future of historical research in Poland is thus unclear, especially for someone like the distinguished historian Jan Gross, a Polish-American who has made his career documenting Polish persecution of Jews during and after World War II.  Gross was already subject to a defamation case for saying that the Poles killed more Jews than they did Nazis during the war, though the government dropped the charges in late 2019.

There’s really no doubt that many Poles were complicit in persecuting and killing Jews during the War. (I should add here that 6,000 of them were also honored for saving Jews, and have been awarded the honor of “Righteous Among The Nations” by Yad Vashem in Israel, a title I’d love to have but is conferred only on non-Jews like Oskar Schindler.) The evidence for a Polish animus against Jews also comes from the fact that after the war the Poles continued pogroms on their own, without the Nazis. The 1946 massacre at Kielce is only one example of several instances of pogroms. Further, Poles often refused to give back the confiscated property and houses of Jews who had fled the country after those Jews returned following the war.

The two points here are that the historical record is clear, and that Poland’s government is bent on distorting it to further their own purposes. The government itself is right-wing and authoritarian, and needs to go. But it won’t, as it’s popular with a large number of Poles.

h/t: Malgorzata

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 3, 2020 • 8:00 am

My store of wildlife photos has depleted to the point where I’m a bit worried. Please send in your good photos!

Today’s contributor is Joe Routon, who sent “street photos”—if photos of Auschwitz can be called that. Joe’s captions are indented:

These are some of the photos I made a few years ago in Auschwitz on a gloomy winter day. We felt a somber feeling of doom, similar to what the Jewish prisoners undoubtedly experienced. It must have been even more unbearable for them in the winter.

Gas chamber and crematorium.

The sign reads “Caution, high voltage, life risk.”

In one of the rooms there are over 100,000 shoes that belonged to people deported to Auschwitz for extermination. Other rooms contain children’s shoes, eyeglasses, and human hair, all removed before the victims were taken to the gas chamber.

In Budapest, Hungary, on the banks of the Danube, is a memorial sculpture “The Shoes on the Danube Promenade” with 60 pairs of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes, all made of rusting iron. It is a monument to the Hungarian Jews who were shot on the banks of the river by the members of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist organization.

In 1944 and 1945, Arrow Cross militiamen beat, plundered, and killed thousands of Jews publicly in Budapest. They would line them up on the edge of the Danube and shoot them, with the bodies falling into the freezing water, which conveniently carried them away.

Before shooting them, they would force the Jews to remove their shoes, which could be sold or traded on the black market. During those days, the Danube was known as “the Jewish Cemetery.”

In Miami Beach, Florida, this 42-feet high bronze hand, reaching out in desperation, pleading for help, is a memorial to the Jews who suffered and were murdered during World War II. On the forearm are an Auschwitz number and 130 human figures writhing in agony, clinging together in the hope of survival.

Alexander Hamilton: slaveowner, slave trader, pro-slavery lawyer, and slave renter

November 18, 2020 • 10:00 am

UPDATE: A new response in the Federalist (click on screenshot) says that Serfilippi’s interpretation is wrong, and that the evidence that Hamilton owned slaves is unconvincing. Click on screenshot to read:

I wondered why the conservative Federalist would publish this, as well as adding the slur about the NYT, but then I realized that part of this is an implicit attack on the contention of the Times‘s 1619 project about the Founding Fathers creating the Revolution to preserve slavery. Anyway, read and judge for yourself. I expect that Serfilippi will reply.

h/t: Dvorah


A new paper by Jessie Serfilippi, a 27-year-old interpreter at the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site in Albany, New York, begins this way:

In the 21st century, Alexander Hamilton is almost universally depicted as an abolitionist. From Ron Chernow’s Hamilton to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, there is little room in modern discourse for questioning the founder’s thoughts and feelings on slavery.

In fact, the article below, from the new Smithsonian Magazine (click on screenshot), notes that both Chernow’s book and Miranda’s play based on that book make a point of painting Hamilton as an abolitionist. While Hamilton was tangentially engaged in some abolitionist activities, Serfilippi’s extensive paper, published by the Schulyler Mansion Historic site, makes an almost airtight case that Hamilton not only owned slaves, but rented them out to others for a fee. In addition, he gave advice to others who wanted to promote slavery (often about maintaining ships for transporting slaves), and bought slaves to sell to others.

(The Schuyler mansion, built by Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler in 1761, is a National Historic site; the Hamilton connection involves Alexander H. marrying Schulyer’s daughter Elizabeth, or “Eliza”.)

If you want a short take, read the Smithsonian article, a good summary of the 28-page article by Serfilippi. But her original publication, which you can get free by clicking on the second screenshot below, is more useful in establishing Hamilton’s slave-owning and -trading activities, as well as his legal advice promoting slavery, with original historical records and documents. These documents include the ledgers of Philip Schuyler, of Hamilton himself, and of John Barker Church, who settled Hamilton’s estate after his death.

Serfilippi’s publication (free pdf at link)


I’ll give Serfilippi’s main take first, and then list the ways that Hamilton was involved with slavery. It was, as she says, a “complicated relationship”, but it clearly seems more pro- than anti-slavery.

A thorough study of the depths of Hamilton’s involvement in the institution of slavery has yet to be done through a close examination of Alexander Hamilton’s cash books, various letters to and from Hamilton, letters to Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton from her father, Philip Schuyler, and other related primary accounts. When those sources are fully considered, a rarely acknowledged truth becomes inescapably apparent: not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally. The denial and obscuration of these facts in nearly every major biography written about him over the past two centuries has erased the people he enslaved from history. It has also created and perpetuated a false and incomplete picture of Hamilton as a man and Founding Father.

Here are Serfilippi’s arguments, some merely inferential, but the most damning ones based on historical documentation.

1.) Hamilton, who grew up in St. Croix, was part of a household that had at least seven slaves.  After his dad abandoned the family, Alexander also worked as a clerk at a trading post involved in the slave trade. It is probable, says Serfilippi, that Hamilton was involved in the machinations of this trade. There is no historical record that Hamilton objected to the slavery on St. Croix during his entire life. As Serfillipi surmises,

As a teenager, Hamilton writes to his friend Ned Stevens that he “would willingly risk my life tho’ not my Character to exalt my Station,” showing that his major concern was improving his own situation, not the ones of the enslaved people around him.14 It is more likely that Hamilton’s exposure to slavery as a child caused him to internalize the lesson that enslavement was the symbol of success for a white man like himself and could lead to the higher station he sought. He would carry that lesson with him as he began a new life in New York, and its impact would much later be revealed on the pages of his cash books.

This is, of course, speculative, and is more biographical surmising than hard evidence. But let’s proceed:

2.) Hamilton was a middleman in the trading of slaves.  The 1784 entry in Hamilton’s own ledger (“cash book”) below documents the sale of a woman named Peggy from Hamilton to physician Malachi Treat for ninety pounds. Apparently Hamilton bought Peggy and held her for Treat until the latter could pay for her. This makes Hamilton a slave trader. The sale of “regular” servants (the name “servant” was often used as a synonym for “slave” back then) did not occur; the only humans bought and sold this way were slaves.

In 1797, and not for the first time, Hamilton bought a “negro woman and child”, holding her for his brother-in-law John Church, who was arriving from England.

Twelve years later, the Churches again turned to Hamilton to purchase enslaved servants. On May 29, 1797—only a week after the Churches arrived in New York from England—Hamilton recorded in his cash book that he spent $225 purchasing a “negro woman and child” for John B. Church.24 (The “X” over the entry in the image below means the debt was paid.


Serfilippi says that Hamilton’s book makes it clear that Hamilton himself carried out this transaction “for himself”, meaning he purchased the slave to sell to Church. It’s clear that he was engaged in buying and selling slaves—acting as a slave trader.

3.) Hamilton was a “middleman for legal clients.” Serfilippi’s search showed that Hamilton was paid by slaveholding and possibly slave-trading clients to advise them on the slave trade (the “advice” was unrecorded), and records of some of these consultations show that he defended the right of Americans to own ships that had been fitted out to carry slaves. While these ships may not have been used later in the slave trade, Serfilippi argues—and this is speculative and not very hard evidence—that if he were an abolitionist, clients involved in the slave trade would not have sought and paid for his expertise.

4.) Hamilton owned slaves. There are several documented instances. In May, 1781, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton saying he “paid the value of a woman” for Hamilton’s wife Eliza. Eliza’s family had at least 13 slaves, and, says Serfilippi, Hamilton would have been expected to purchase slaves for his own family as part of a “lifestyle reflective of his status as part of one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in New York.”

More telling is an entry in Hamilton’s cashbook from March 23, 1796, in which Hamilton paid $250 to his father in law for “2 Negro servants purchased by him for me”. Here’s the entry:

And there’s more:

On June 25, 1798, Hamilton recorded that he’d received $100.00 for the “term” of a “negro boy.”  [JAC: probably one of the “two Negro servants” above]. He rented the boy to someone else––who that person was is not mentioned––and collected money for the child’s labor. The fact that he was able to lease the boy to another person absolutely indicates that Hamilton enslaved the child.

Serfilippis gives other evidence that these people were slaves, though the material above should be dispositive.  There is other evidence that Hamilton had white “servants”, who, because they were paid wages, were not slaves. No wages were given to the slaves above. Read Serfilippi’s article for more detail.

4.) Hamilton’s slaves were part of his property valued after he died.  The document below, probably by the hand of George Church, Hamilton’s executor, shows the value of his estate (1818 pounds) after Hamilton’s pre-mortem debts were paid off. The items valued were his house, his furniture and library, and his “servants”:

Paid servants do not have a value like this; these were slaves. As Serfilippi notes:

In the assessment likely drawn by Church, the “servants” are valued at £400. Monetary value ascribed to a human being as property is an inherent aspect of slavery. Valuing servants in such a way, as part of the estate on par with furniture, simply cannot refer to hired servants, such as the coachman, gardener, or “White Peggy,” who were hired, paid, and not considered to be the property of the Hamiltons.

In 1804, it is possible there were four servants at The Grange. The first would be the woman Hamilton purchased for Eliza in 1781, the woman and boy, and the maid for Angelica. It is known that a man or boy named Dick died, meaning it is more likely that there were three enslaved servants in 1804: the two women and the girl, who may have been a young woman by that point. There may also have been another maid, as multiple maids were mentioned in relation to the Hamilton children in Schuyler’s 1799 letter and who those maids were—whether they were one of the two women already purchased by Hamilton or not—is unclear.

The auditor does specifically write servants, using the plural of the word, implying there was more than one servant present. Who they were may never be known, but the presence of “servants” on the inventory of Hamilton’s estate is proof enslaved servants were present at The Grange when Alexander Hamilton died in 1804.

It is true that Hamilton occasionally espoused abolitionist views, but Serfilippi argues that these views, which changed over time, simply reflect his adherence to the political organizations with which he was affiliated. Her conclusion:

We may never know what became of the people the Hamiltons enslaved, but we know they existed. Alexander Hamilton’s cash books offer a history of his connections to and relationship with the institution of slavery. He was trusted by legal clients to know the ins and outs of the slave trade for certain cases. He was selected by friends and family to act as a financier and to purchase enslaved people for them. He purchased multiple enslaved people for his own family and did not leave instructions for them to be freed upon his death. The presence of these enslaved servants at his estate, The Grange, is confirmed by the value of Hamilton’s estate, calculated after his death, likely by John Barker Church.

In light of these primary sources, the majority of which are in Hamilton’s own hand, it is vital that the myth of Hamilton as the “Abolitionist Founding Father” end. These documents, especially when placed in context with each other, make it evident that Alexander Hamilton was an enslaver. The truth revealed in Hamilton’s cash books and letters must be acknowledged in order to honor the people he enslaved. Through understanding and accepting Hamilton’s status as an enslaver, the stories of the people he enslaved can finally take their rightful place in history.

Now you probably know why I’m putting up this post. Hamilton, seen as an colonial abolitionist by liberals, turns out to have been just another slaveholder—like many of the founding fathers, including Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, and Madison. But because Hamilton was thought of as different, he’s been deified, by Chernow and especially by Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose play Hamilton was a theatrical phenomenon.

Hamilton is now seen as a man of his time: a white person who owned slaves as a sign of social standing. That doesn’t make slavery right, of course, as it’s the most odious of practices in America. It’s just that because slavery is seen as an original sin in early Americans, and because those who owned or even just approved of slavery have been demonized and their statues torn down, in the name of consistency the antiracists must now tear down or deface the statues of Hamilton, as they have of Jefferson, and rename any monuments or buildings raised in his honor.  One might expect that the play Hamilton would be picketed now, and that there would be calls to remove Hamilton from the ten-dollar bill. After all, Theodore Roosevelt’s statue was removed from in front of the American Museum of Natural History simply because he was astride his horse, with an African and a Native American walking by his side.

That won’t happen, probably because Miranda’s play has put Hamilton, the star, beyond reproach (Miranda is a person of color, of Puerto Rican descent, and a left-wing activist). We shall see if this new research casts doubt on Hamilton’s legacy. I wouldn’t hold my breath, as consistency has never been a defining feature of woke ideology.

What are my views on Hamilton? Given the currents of abolitionism already about in his time, one can’t say that Hamilton is completely absolved of moral failure. He and other slaveholders knew that there were good arguments about the immorality of slavery, and nevertheless still held slaves.

Hamilton shouldn’t be considered as culpable as, say, someone who held slaves today, since morality has progressed substantially since the 18th century.  Should Hamilton still be lionized? Yes, I think that the good he did outweighs the bad, though a calculus in a case like this is hard to perform. But any monuments celebrating the many good things that Hamilton did should stay up, for they are not celebrating his slaveholding.

Perhaps his monuments should be qualified with plaques, as statues of others have been qualified. I leave that to those who deal with the ethics of monuments. The only case I’m making here is that if you erase or demonize someone for merely approving of slavery, or of eugenics, then you must do more to fight against those who actually owned or traded slaves. In other words, whatever treatment was given to Confederates or Founding Fathers who owned slaves should also be meted out to Alexander Hamilton.

Jessie Serfilippi:

The Schuyler Mansion:


h/t: Dom

More ludicrous erasure: students at Brown demand removal of two Roman statues, while students at UW Madison vote to remove Lincoln statue

October 28, 2020 • 10:15 am

At Brown University there are two bronze copies of statues of Roman emperors. One is of Marcus Aurelius:

. . . and the other is of Caesar Augustus (sources of both photos, and a discussion of the statues’ history, are here)

Well, all statues these days are subject to intense scrutiny, and a group of 6 students representing “Decolonization at Brown” (endorsed by 28 student organizations at the University, including the Brown Birding Club), wrote a petition/letter at the Blogonian—an independent student newspaper at Brown University—about the two monuments. The students and groups strongly assert that the two statues are harmful because they exemplify white supremacy and values and thus are offensive to students of color. They have to come down!

Read (click on screenshot) and weep:

What’s telling about all the beefing is that the claim that the statues symbolize colonialism and white supremacy, and were put up to show that Brown was trying to inculcate its students with whiteness, are not based on fact, but on student offense. There’s no record of anything intentions to codify white supremacy. Rather, the statues were clearly erected to symbolize Rome as an antecedent of Western culture and philosophy.  Some quotes from the beef above:

Last spring, Brown’s Public Art Committee proposed to restore and relocate the bronze copy of a Roman statue of Augustus, which currently stands in front of the Ratty, using tens of thousands of dollars solicited from an unnamed donor. Under this proposal, the statue would be moved to the Quiet Green, across from the Slavery Memorial.

We strongly oppose this proposal and urge the Public Art Committee—and any community members or donors who are invested in the role of public art at Brown—to replace both the statue of Augustus and the statue of Marcus Aurelius (currently on Ruth Simmons Quad) with new works of art commissioned from local Black and Indigenous artists.

These monuments were brought to our campus with the goal of upholding the ideals of the “perfect” white form, white civilization, white supremacy, and colonialism—ideas that we believe are incompatible with Brown today. Consequently, removing and replacing these statues is a crucial step in confronting such legacies. We see this as a moment of immense opportunity for transformation and reflection, and we hope that the broader campus community, the Public Art Committee, and potential donors will, too.

It goes on and on like this; the language is by now very familiar:

Because they are not actually from ancient Rome, we must understand them as modern monuments to a set of values and political stances which existed when they were commissioned for Brown’s campus.

. . . The connection between the U.S. and Rome is entirely ideological. There is no natural or direct tie between the two—there is only a fabricated lineage of whiteness. Statues made in the Roman-style, like the two at Brown, are intended to materialize this connection. They convey the supposed supremacy of white values over non-white cultures, a reading in which non-white people should learn and aspire to whiteness. Alt-right groups, like the Proud Boys and Identity Evropa, use this idea of “white virtue” to ground white supremacy.

. . . To the significant number of students, staff, and faculty at Brown today who are not white, these statues function as a constant reminder that Black, Indigenous, and people of color are not included within Brown’s conception of the University community. The presence of these statues is therefore not only incompatible with, but violates Brown’s stated commitment to inclusion, equity, and change.

The authors and supporting organizations call for the complete removal of the statues.

I deny, first of all, that these statues are harmful, or that any students genuinely feel offended by them (there’s also an antiracist monument calling attention to Brown’s involvement in slavery). The offended, I argue are pretending to be offended, using offense as a means of asserting power—of making the campus do what they want. If these statues are removed because Rome engaged in expansion, well, let’s just write off every monument to Greece and Rome, both bellicose empires, but also empires that helped form the ideals of the West. And why not expunge all Roman and Greek writing from the curriculum as well?

At least one student— a woman of color—has pushed back in an article at the Brown Daily Herald, another student newspaper. While Bhaskar could use some lessons in how to write more simply (I’d recommend her reading Strunk and White or Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”), she does make the point that what goes for statues can also go for curricula. After all, if a Roman statue is offensive, what’s to ensure that readings of Roman and Greek thinkers won’t be expunged, too? No more Meditations of Marcus Aurelius the Colonizer and White Supremacist.

A quote from Bhaskar:

Now, more than ever, the world needs graduates and scholars who are able to recognize the many intricacies and layers of the past and who can use this multifaceted knowledge to consume historical and artistic vestiges of the past with intentionality and a capacity to use such lessons to guide progress. The University must move beyond tendencies to censor “uncomfortable” or “controversial” topics that fail to echo the outspoken post-modernist and left-leaning images associated with Brown in favour of upholding the tenets of free inquiry and the preservation of nuance within the exploration of historical relics. Outlining tangible steps for creating robust anti-racist curricula, while equipping students with the patience, wisdom, and skill-set to grapple with uncomfortable realities and relics of the past, is crucial for the University to uphold its mission of “communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.”

There’s one student who’s much wiser and more thoughtful than the many who have a kneejerk reaction to classical statues as symbols of “white supremacy.”

Meanwhile, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, a statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in front of the administration building atop a hill. I saw this when I visited Madison to speak at the FFRF:

Well, Lincoln is in bad odor, too, these days. Lincoln! The man who fought a war against those who wished to preserve slavery, and issued the Emancipation Proclamation! Why Lincoln? Well, read and weep again:

A group of students are calling for the removal of the Abraham Lincoln statue at the top of Bascom Hill on the UW-Madison campus.

This comes after protesters took down two statues on the state Capitol grounds: one embodying the state’s motto “Forward” and another of Civil War Union Army Col. Hans Christian Heg. The students say despite the former president’s role in the abolition of slavery, he had a racist past in supporting the notion of a “superior” white race.

“I just think he did, you know, some good things…the bad things that he’s done definitely outweighs them,” Nalah McWhorter, president of the Wisconsin Black Student Union, told the Badger Herald.

Lincoln was memorialized on the university campus for his role in creating land grant universities, of which UW-Madison is one. The land for the campuses was largely seized from Native American tribes in 1862 through the Morrill Act. Lincoln also ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men that same year.

The students say the sum of the former president’s actions warrant taking down the statue.

“And I do want the 100% removal of the statue. I don’t want it to be moved somewhere or anything like that. I want it removed,” McWhorter said.

And on what basis did “the bad things Lincoln did definitely outweight the good ones”? Does Ms. McWhorter know how many lives were saved or made better by the ending of slavery in America? Yes, Lincoln did order the execution of 38 Dakota tribesmen who killed settlers and soldiers, but he also commuted the death sentences of many more of the convicted. But against that we must measure Lincoln’s legacy, and I can’t imagine what kind of mind would decide that Lincoln caused more harm than good. Again, I assert that this is faux outrage disguising an attempt to get power over a university. Removing a statue of Lincoln, or of Roman emperors, will do exactly nothing to ameliorate racism or better the opportunities for minorities.

In fact, following a student petition with many demands, the first of which was to remove the Lincoln statue (it also demanded the abolition of the campus police), a resolution was brought before the student government demanding attention to BIPOC demands, including doing something about the Lincoln statue, one of the “remnants of this school’s history of white supremacy.” According to Campus Reform, a right-wing site, the student government passed that resolution unanimously.

I don’t know what’s worse: these student demands to remove statues that not only honor great men, but remind us of history, or the pusillanimous administrators who bow to those demands. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is a welcome exception, but after the students and African-American Studies Department castigated Schapiro’s hard-nosed response to defund-the-cops protestors, he’s showing signs of caving.

For those who think that all this madness will end when Biden is elected, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The students have had a taste of power, and they won’t stop until they’re running the asylum.

Fallout at the New York times over Bret Stephens’s criticism of the 1619 Project

October 12, 2020 • 9:30 am

The other day Bret Stephens wrote an op-ed at the New York Times in which he bucked one of the paper’s proudest achievements: the 1619 Project, designed to be at once journalism, history, and a curriculum for secondary schools.  Stephens was unsparing in his criticism, saying that the Project has “failed” and has given critics of the newspaper a “gift”. I applauded him for his bravery, and predicted his demise at the paper.

Thinking about it, though, I realize that the paper would be extremely foolish to let Stephens go, for that would cause a huge public outcry. He’s an established conservative columnist, and if he got released for doing what he should have done—criticizing a project that, although run by his employer, had become a public issue—the paper would be accused even more than it is already for being biased and one-sided. I expect Stephen will stay.

Now I don’t agree with most things that Stephens writes, but I did agree with this. I also don’t agree with most things that Glenn Greenwald writes, either, but his criticisms of the paper, just published in The Intercept (click on first screenshot below), are on the mark. But they’re largely outmoded now, as they’re based on a tweet issued by the New York Times’s own union of employees, the New York Times Guild. And that tweet has now been retracted.  Yet I’ll maintain that his criticisms still have force, even if they were directed against a moving target.

The union issued this tweet on Saturday that was critical of the paper for publishing Stephens’s op-ed, seen as “going after one of it’s [sic] own.” (Note the two misuses of “it’s”, bizarre for a newspaper guild!). Greenwald wrote his piece after he saw this tweet, and oy, was he steamed!

While Greenwald isn’t a fan of the paper or of Stephens (he also has mixed feelings about the 1619 Project), he eloquently defended journalism itself, saying that it’s the duty of newspapers to publish dissenting opinion, and when the story is the paper itself, well, that’s just too bad.  A couple of quotes:

To start with, this is a case of journalists using their union not to demand greater editorial freedom or journalistic independence — something one would reasonably expect from a journalists’ union — but demanding its opposite: that writers at the New York Times be prohibited by management from expressing their views and perspectives about the controversies surrounding the 1619 Project. In other words: they are demanding that their own journalistic colleagues be silenced and censored. What kind of journalists plead with management for greater restrictions on journalistic expression rather than fewer?

Apparently, the answer is New York Times journalists. Indeed, this is not the first time they have publicly implored corporate management to restrict the freedom of expression and editorial freedom of their journalistic colleagues. At the end of July, the Guild issued a series of demands, one of which was that “sensitivity reads should happen at the beginning of the publication process, with compensation for those who do them.”

Here’s the demand for sensitivity readers, now a staple in children’s literature but hardly appropriate for a major newspaper, which, argues Greenwald, should publish stuff that’s occasionally objectionable to everyone, “including culturally hegemonic liberals.” (There are more demands at the link below.)

Here’s one more eloquent statement by Greenwald about why the ungrammatical tweet above was ridiculous:

I’ve long been a harsh critic of Stephens’ (and Weiss’) journalism and opinion writing. But it would never occur to me to take steps to try to silence them. If they were my colleagues and published an article I disliked or expressed views I found pernicious, I certainly would not whine to management that they broke the “rules” and insist that they should not have been allowed to have expressed what they believe.

That’s because I’m a journalist, and I know that journalism can have value only if it fosters divergent views and seeks to expand rather than reduce the freedom of discourse and expression permitted by society and by employers. And whatever one wants to say about Stephens’ career and record of writing — and I’ve had a lot of negative things to say about it — harshly critiquing your own employer’s Pulitzer-winning series, one beloved by powerful media, political and cultural figures, is the type of “challenge to power” that many journalists who do nothing but spout pleasing, popular pieties love to preen as embodying.

There has never been a media outlet where I have worked or where I have been published that did not frequently also publish opinions with which I disagree and articles I dislike, including the one in which I am currently writing. . . .

Well, late yesterday evening, someone thought better of the first tweet, saying it was an “error”. This came out, and Greenwald highlights it an an update to his piece:

Apparently the “mistake” was that someone in the Guild, who also runs its Twitter account, issued the tweet without “internal discussion.” This caused a fracas in the Guild, which issued the apology.

I’d say that this deletion and apology was a good move if I didn’t think it was done only for the “optics,” with the Guild realizing how bad that tweet looked. Although I don’t know for sure, based on the demands the Guild has made previously, and the fact that the NYT and the internal communications of the paper led to a climate so toxic that it forced Bari Weiss to resign, I suspect that many members of the Guild—save for “old school” journalists like Greenwald—agree with the first tweet. And I suspect Stephens has few friends at the paper now.

I really would like to be charitable here, as we shouldn’t assume the worst of those we dislike, but I’m having trouble with that, at least with respect to the Guild. We know from internal communications that those who don’t adhere to the paper’s woke ideology get slammed.

I also have trouble thinking that Jake Silverstein, the editor of the NYT Magazine (which first published the 1619 Project), is completely sincere when he says in the two tweets below that “he welcomes debate” and “stands entirely behind the 1619 Project.” He in fact has rejected criticism and ignored fact checking, and the paper has quietly shelved important claims about the Project without admitting that they did so. It was up to others to note this form of journalistic duplicity. No, the 1619 Project reminds me of a scientist who holds so tenaciously to his theory that he’ll never admit it has flaws, and when some are found he secretly modifies his theory and asserts that it never changed. (In fact, Steve Gould behaved that way with respect to his and Eldredge’s theory of punctuated equilibrium.)

I’m more charitable about the following letter from the publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, shared by Silverstein. I’ve reprinted Sulzberger’s statement at the bottom. The only thing I’ll beef about here is Sulzberger’s claim that their openness to hear criticism is the clearest sign of confidence in their work. In fact, they are open to publishing criticism by one of their highest-profile columnists, but they’re not open to really listening to criticism, as they’ve swatted away the critics as they’ve weighed in (see here) or even secretly altered the Project in light of criticism—without admitting it. And believe me, it’s not a trivial thing to assert, as the 1619 Project did, that the Revolutionary War was really fought by the colonists as a way to preserve slavery. Arguing about the “founding date” of America is one thing, but distorting the history of the American Revolution is another.


h/t: cesar

Bret Stephens is wrong about most things, but he is very brave

October 10, 2020 • 11:15 am

The title of this piece came from Greg Mayer, who was about to write a post on this same subject when he saw my draft. So, with permission, I’ve stolen his title, which was better than mine. And I agree with it.

Bret Stephens knew what he was doing when he called out the 1619 Project in his latest column (click on screenshot below). For he not only criticized the project, but the paper’s—his paper’s—journalistic integrity, verging at times on mendacity.  In fact, it’s a good piece, even if you don’t like Stephens’s conservatism, for what I know about his indictment is true. But how much of a career will he have at the NYT now? For what he did was far more serious than the “crimes” that made Bari Weiss’s life at the paper so untenable that she left. She was just anti-woke, which went against the paper’s editorial grain.

When Greg saw this draft (he’s followed the Project since its inception, he added this:

You mention Bari Weiss, but don’t forget the opinion page editor, James Bennet, who was defenestrated from the Times for insufficient wokeness. One thing about Stephens that might protect him is the fact that he is very visible, as the Times‘s premier conservative columnist. Both Weiss (who only occasionally was published by the Times) and Bennet were mostly behind the scenes players; Stephens is out in front, published twice weekly (including his duets with Gail Collins), and a “Columnist”, not a mere contributor.

In his column, Stephens says the 1619 Project, however good its motivations, was handled so duplicitously that it gave the paper’s critics “a gift.”

Let me say first that since the 1619 Project was not just journalism, but also an attempt to infiltrate American secondary education with its ideology from Critical Race Theory, it represents a victory for the Woke. Although Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the Woke haven’t won, I disagree. They control not only the two most respected liberal papers in America, and most higher education, but are now putting their tentacles into secondary-school education. Even the Chicago school system has adopted the 1619 Project as part of its curriculum.

But I digress. I described some of the paper’s questionable practices in earlier posts, and Stephens reprises how Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project’s director, simply lied about the project’s overriding aims, saying that she never tried to change the foundation date of America from 1776 to 1619. But she did make that claim several times, and it quietly disappeared from the paper’s website without an explicit correction. And despite trenchant criticism by historians about many of the project’s empirical claims, the paper and editor refused to accept, or even consider, the criticisms.  The Woke don’t do stuff like that.

Stephens finds other problems, like the new claim that 1776 represented the year of “defining contradiction” of America, that the founding principles were “false,” and that Jake Silverstein, the NYT Magazine editor, grossly exaggerated when he said this:

“Out of slavery—and the anti-Black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”

Well, you can argue about the meaning of words like “contradiction,” “falsity”, and “nearly everything,” but the fact remains that noted historians on all sides of the political spectrum have argued that the Times‘s journalism simply distorted history. Stephens gives several examples of pushback by historians (e.g., here, here and here) and concludes, correctly, I think, that the 1619 Project is “a thesis in search of evidence, not the other way around.”

The historical distortions and track-covering by the Times are not in doubt, at least not among those who’ve followed the controversy, but of course all criticism of the 1619 Project by liberals comes with the obligatory praise for its anti-racist intent.  And indeed, the intent was admirable. Who of good will can oppose anti-racism? But the execution has been deeply flawed, and will the paper really reduce racism by inculcating a generation of American children with Critical Race Theory? Further, Trump has already suggested that he’ll cut off government funding to any schools who adopt the 1619 Project in their curriculum. I oppose that autocratic decision as well, as the President should not be dictating what’s taught to children. School boards set curricula.

In the end, Stephens knows he’s even more of an apostate with his NYT colleagues now, but you have to admire him for the courage of his convictions. He didn’t have to write this column, which includes criticisms of the paper’s journalistic practices like this:

Journalists are, most often, in the business of writing the first rough draft of history, not trying to have the last word on it. We are best when we try to tell truths with a lowercase t, following evidence in directions unseen, not the capital-T truth of a pre-established narrative in which inconvenient facts get discarded. And we’re supposed to report and comment on the political and cultural issues of the day, not become the issue itself.

As fresh concerns make clear, on these points — and for all of its virtues, buzz, spinoffs and a Pulitzer Prize — the 1619 Project has failed.

Nor did he have to end his piece this way, but I’m glad he did:

For obvious reasons, I’ve thought long and hard about the ethics of writing this essay. On the one hand, outside of exceptional circumstances, it’s bad practice to openly criticize the work of one’s colleagues. We bat for the same team and owe one another collegial respect.

On the other, the 1619 Project has become, partly by its design and partly because of avoidable mistakes, a focal point of the kind of intense national debate that columnists are supposed to cover, and that is being widely written about outside The Times. To avoid writing about it on account of the first scruple is to be derelict in our responsibility toward the second.

All the more so as journalists, in the United States and abroad, come under relentless political assault from critics who accuse us of being fake, biased, partisan and an arm of the radical left. Many of these attacks are baseless. Some of them are not. Through its overreach, the 1619 Project has given critics of The Times a gift.

In the meantime, the Wall Street Journal has reported on a futile effort: a letter to the Pulitzer Committee signed by historians (including Glenn Loury), asking them to take back the 1619 Project’s Pulitzer Prize (that Prize was ridiculous from the get-go, awarded not for quality but wokeness). You won’t be able to read the WSJ article, which is paywalled, but you can see the beginning by clicking on the screenshot below. (Judicious inquiry may yield you a copy of the piece.)

The WSJ repeats some of the earlier criticism, but also links to the Pulitzer letter, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below:

Of course the Pulitzer folks won’t retract the prize; I don’t know if it’s ever done that, but it surely wouldn’t retract an award for an antiracist piece in these times.  Here’s a short extract from the longish letter which includes lots of material we’re familiar with by now:

The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,” as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish “deeply reported” falsehoods.

The Pulitzer Prize Board erred in awarding a prize to Hannah-Jones’s profoundly flawed essay, and through it to a Project that, despite its worthy intentions, is disfigured by unfounded conjectures and patently false assertions. To err is human. But now that it has come to light that these materials have been “corrected” without public disclosure and Hannah-Jones has falsely put forward claims that she never said or wrote what she plainly did, the offense is far more serious. It is time for the Pulitzer Prize Board to acknowledge its error rather than compound it. Given the glaring historical fallacy at the heart of its account, and the subsequent breaches of core journalistic ethics by both Hannah-Jones and the Times, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written” does not deserve the honor conferred upon it. Nor does The 1619 Project of which it is a central part, and which the Board seeks to honor by honoring Hannah-Jones’s essay. The Board should acknowledge that its award was an error. It can and should correct that error by withdrawing the prize.

The letter is signed by 21 original signatories and 7 additional ones from “the Independent Institute.” I can’t be arsed to look most of the scholars up and, as most Woke people do, try to discredit them. I’d never heard of any of them save Glenn Loury, who, as I recall, identifies as a liberal. It doesn’t matter, though, as Pulitzer won’t revoke the Prize. But the original award to the 1619 Project is, I think, a travesty, motivated much more by ideology than by quality.

h/t: Cate, Enrico

The intellectual mendacity of the New York Times and its 1619 Project

September 22, 2020 • 12:00 pm

Yesterday I criticized the University of Chicago’s English Department for repeatedly changing their “Faculty Statement of 2020” without ever telling readers that they’d done so. That’s not a huge misstep, though it’s unethical and should not have been done by—of all organizations—a Department of English.

But the New York Times has been far more unethical in a simiular way: changing what it said about the 1619 Project’s aims without letting the readers know.  It also does other dubious things, like employing fact-checkers whose fact-checks are ignored, as well as ignoring correct criticisms from historians on all sides of the political spectrum. And its dug in its heels when historians offer corrections that should have been made.

An example of historical sleaziness is the Project’s assertion that the Revolutionary War in America was fought because the colonists wanted to ensure the continuation of slavery in their new country. The evidence for this is virtually nonexistent, but Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Project, hasn’t backed off much. As The Atlantic notes,

Hannah-Jones hasn’t budged from her conviction that slavery helped fuel the Revolution. “I do still back up that claim,” she told me last week—before Silverstein’s rebuttal was published—although she says she phrased it too strongly in her essay, in a way that might mislead readers into thinking that support for slavery was universal. “I think someone reading that would assume that this was the case: all 13 colonies and most people involved. And I accept that criticism, for sure.” She said that as the 1619 Project is expanded into a history curriculum and published in book form, the text will be changed to make sure claims are properly contextualized.

Well, maybe you can find a handful of revolutionaries motivated this way, but historians have claimed that, among all other motivations, keeping slavery as a going concern was trivial. She did make the change (or so I think; I haven’t checked.) Other historical are detailed in the article just below.

In a new article in Quillette (click on screenshot), Philip Magness (who has written a critical book on the 1619 Project) finds one critical assertion of the original 1619 Project that’s gone down the “memory hole” (you’ll remember that term from Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Winston Smith’s job was to make history disappear). Click to read:

The issue is when America was founded. From the start Hannah-Jones claimed it was 1619, when the first ship containing 20-odd slaves arrived in America.  She asserted this repeatedly:

For several months after the 1619 Project first launched, its creator and organizer Nikole Hannah-Jones doubled down on the claim. “I argue that 1619 is our true founding,” she tweeted the week after the project launched. “Also, look at the banner pic in my profile”—a reference to the graphic of the date 1776 crossed out with a line. It’s a claim she repeated many times over.

The original version:

Hannah-Jones’s present Twitter header (click on screenshot). If she’s not replacing the “founding date” with the 1619 date, I don’t know what that means:

Throughout the controversy, the line about the year 1619 being “our true founding” continued to haunt the Times. This criticism did not aim to denigrate the project’s titular date or the associated events in the history of slavery. Rather, the passage came to symbolize the Times’s blurring of historical analysis with editorial hyperbole. The announced intention of reframing the country’s origin date struck many readers across the political spectrum as an implicit repudiation of the American revolution and its underlying principles.

Rather than address this controversy directly, the Times—it now appears—decided to send it down the memory hole—the euphemized term for selectively editing inconvenient passages out of old newspaper reports in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Without announcement or correction, the newspaper quietly edited out the offending passage such that it now reads:

Magness continues, noting not that Hannah-Jones didn’t just make a sneaky correction, but claimed that she never said that 1619 was the founding date of America. And that’s simply a lie.

Discovery of this edit came about earlier this week when Nikole Hannah-Jones went on CNN to deny that she had ever sought to displace 1776 with a new founding date of 1619. She repeated the point in a now-deleted tweet: “The #1619Project does not argue that 1619 was our true founding. We know this nation marks its founding at 1776.” It was not the first time that Hannah-Jones had tried to alter her self-depiction of the project’s aims on account of the controversial line. She attempted a similar revision a few months ago during an online spat with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.

Here’s that tweet, which of course somebody saved:

The piece continues:

But this time the brazen rewriting of her own arguments proved too much. Hannah-Jones’s readers scoured her own Twitter feed and public statements over the previous year, unearthing multiple instances where she had in fact announced an intention to displace 1776 with 1619.

The foremost piece of evidence against Hannah-Jones’s spin, of course, came from the opening passage of from the Times’s own website where it originally announced its aim “to reframe the country’s history” around the year “1619 as our true founding.” When readers returned to that website to cite the line however, they discovered to their surprise that it was no longer there.

The Times quietly dropped the offending passage at some point during the intervening year, although multiple screencaps of the original exist. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine suggests the alteration came around late December 2019, when the 1619 Project was facing an onslaught of criticism over this exact point from several distinguished historians of the American founding.

A similar change was made in the print edition for schools, which originally contained the sentence “America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began.” That sentence was simply excised.

Now some will argue that this is a trivial change, and to that I’d say: “Are you kidding? July 4, 1776 is an iconic date in American history, and the NYT wants to change it to August 20, 1619, so that the founding of America coincides with the arrival of the first slaves.”

Others will say, “Well, so what? It’s just a minor emendation, and the Times made the change.” The problem with this is that it’s standard for a paper to note when a column or article has been changed, usually with an addendum on the page. This hasn’t been done. Like George Orwell’s Winston Smith, the paper has simply put its previous assertion (and not a trivial one) down the Big Memory Hole. It’s trying to hide its misstatements rather than admit to them. Worse, Hannah-Jones simply denied what she previously said.

Were I to make such a big claim on this site, and then retract it, I’d admit it—either with an emendation or in a separate post. That the NYT cannot abide by even these minimal standards of journalism makes me realize even more that the paper is allowing its ideological agenda seep into its news. And that agenda has also infused the secondary-school materials as well, for the Project was always intended to instill into American children the Times’s view of history. The problem, though,  is that the 1619 Project is not a work of history, but a work of journalism heavily infused with Critical Race Theory.

I’ll finish by saying this: I agree that the aims of the 1619 Project are admirable: to teach children about the horrors of slavery and of the subsequent bigotry and oppression suffered by African-Americans. And it’s very useful to highlight where and how the residuum of slavery, instantiated in current bigotry, still infuses America. But the Times has botched this project big time. If you can’t trust them on details like the above, can you trust the view of history purveyed to kids in school?

Americans abysmally ignorant about the Holocaust

September 16, 2020 • 12:45 pm

There are two articles this year reporting surveys of Americans’ knowledge of the Holocaust. The first is in the Guardian (click on screenshot below), the second is a Pew survey (click on second screenshot). Both give the same results: compared to what you might think, and certainly to readers here, most Americans don’t know all that much about the Holocaust.

Now you might think that the results aren’t that bad, and, as the Pew survey notes, Jews like me tend to know more about the Holocaust than non-Jews, but I still find it amazing, since it’s hard to live in the West without knowing these basic facts.

The Guardian survey involved 1000 nationwide interviews and 200 interviews in each state, all involving young adults (18-39), totaling 11,000 respondents. The Pew Survey involved 10,971 respondents who were part of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel; respondents were of various ages and were asked four questions about the Holocaust. Both show roughly the same thing, though the Pew survey also broke down the data by age, education, degree of “warmness” towards the Jews, political affiliation and so on. I’ll be brief.

A summary of the Guardian study:

Almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and more than one in 10 believe Jews caused the Holocaust, a new survey has found, revealing shocking levels of ignorance about the greatest crime of the 20th century.

According to the study of millennial and Gen Z adults aged between 18 and 39, almost half (48%) could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war.

Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure. One in eight (12%) said they had definitely not heard, or didn’t think they had heard, about the Holocaust.

Now the “six million” figure is an iconic number, though perhaps fewer people realize that actually the “Holocaust” refers only to the genocide of Jews. The Nazis actually killed far more civilians that that; here are estimates from the U.S. Holocaust Museum:

This figure is 19 million, with Jews, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and Jehovah’s Witnesses being those dispatched in the camps. It’s salutary to remember that the Nazis killed not just Jews, but many civilians on their home ground, as well as Roma, homosexuals, and the disabled. Soviet and Polish civilians suffered horribly, many shot on the spot.

At any rate, the fact that the 6 million figure for the Holocaust proper wasn’t known by nearly everyone was a source of anguish to Gideon Taylor, the president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germans.

The facts that more than 10% of people thought the Jews caused the Holocaust, and 23% thought the Holocaust was a myth or exaggerated, are more disturbing to me, as is the idea that half the respondents couldn’t name a single concentration camp. Who hasn’t heard of Auschwitz? And don’t people know about the Warsaw Ghetto? These are people who should have learned this in history class, for the minimal age of respondents was 18.

The highest scoring states were Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, and the lowest scorers were Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas. Make of that what you will.

So be it. Here’s the Pew survey.

Pew asked their sample of almost 11,000 people four questions. They’re given in this table along with the proportion of adults and teens who answered each question correctly (and you better know the answers!). Older people did better, as you might expect.

Again we see that most people, but not an overwhelming majority, know that the Holocaust happened between 1930 and 1950, and what a ghetto was. Less than half, however, knew that the number of Jews killed was 6 million as opposed to the three alternative answers of less than a million, three million or more than 12 million. 43% knew that Hitler became chancellor through an election (it was in 1932, and forced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor).

66% of Americans knew that the Holocaust refers to the killing of Jews rather than general killings, which is a decent figure. Of the four questions above, 24% of Americans got 3 of them right and 24% got all four right, while 18% got none right and the other 34% one or two right. There was no appreciable difference between Democrats and Republicans in their degree of knowledge about the Holocaust.

I’ll add one more table showing that there’s a big effect on level of education on knowledge about the Holocaust, as you might expect. But I didn’t expect such a big difference between people with “some college” and those who were college graduates:

My take: Yes, I found the level of ignorance fairly surprising, though of course remember that this is the nation that elected Trump as President. I wasn’t so much distressed by ignorance about ghettos and camp names as by the 23% of Americans who thought the Holocaust was a myth or exaggerated, or didn’t know for sure. That’s nearly one out of four people, and I think bespeaks a degree of anti-Semitism more pervasive in America than most people realize.

But if you want to see real ignorance of history, ask Americans about the genocide of the Armenians, which likely involved well more than a million deaths, or the killings during the partition of India (200,000 to 2,000,000; estimates vary widely). The horrors of history need to be studied by everyone, for they tell us what the “average” person are capable of when worked up by religious or political fervor.

h/t: Matthew