Archive for February, 2012

Living Legends: Black History Month

The program read “Living Legends of the Civil Rights Movement,” but it just as easily could have been called “Living History.” So many people came out to hear Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton moderate a discussion with civil rights leaders Rep. John Lewis and Julian Bond, former chairman of the NAACP, that there was a line down the block outside Busboys & Poets where the event was held on Monday night, February 27, in honor of black history month.

All three panelists were activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC) in the 1960s. They talked about a time when “the south was terrorist territory.” They shared some of the atrocities, including a man who had a kidney problem and stopped at the only bathroom for miles to relieve himself. He got no relief. Instead, he was shot in the back and killed. It was a white only bathroom.

Norton, Lewis, and Bond talked about Bloody Sunday in Selma, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the March on Washington, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. For two plus hours, the crowded room was spellbound as history came alive. In order to accommodate as many people as possible, bleachers and chairs were added to the stage behind the speakers. What was encouraging was that so many of those faces were young. And in the audience itself was an older crowd which included a former Time magazine journalist who covered civil rights in the 1960s, former SNCC members, and even a Freedom Rider, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

The evening ended with a Q&A and one of the questions was about Obama. Rep Lewis said that “the election of Obama was not the dream; just a down payment.”

 

Advertisements

Fenwick 101

Greetings from Florida! Tonight I’ll be celebrating the wedding of my cousin Kate and remembering Millicent Fenwick on what would have been her 102nd birthday.

Last year (pre-blog), I wrote Fenwick 101 in honor of Millicent Fenwick’s 101st birthday. So many folks were interested in reading this that it became the inspiration behind: http://www.sixdegreesofmillicent.com

 

Fenwick 101

By Amy Schapiro 

Former Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-NJ), best remembered as the pipe-smoking grandmother in Congress and the model for Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury character Lacey Davenport would have been 101 years old today – February 25. She’s probably rolling in her grave as the government contemplates a shutdown over the budget. She would be the first to point out government responsibility (or lack thereof) and the fact that passage of a federal budget is nearly five months overdue. This coming from a woman who wanted to do three things before she died: donate a ring, see a friend, and make sure all her bills were paid and checks cleared, including her quarterly taxes, before she died.

Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.” She was the voice of honesty, integrity, and ethics. Even going as far as writing checks to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the government for congressional pay raises members received, thanks to a congressional vote, and for which she was opposed. Not only that, she returned more than $450,000 to the U.S. Treasury in unspent office expenses. She was, not surprisingly, opposed to PAC money and she practiced what she preached. She advocated for campaign finance reform and refused PAC money.

When asked why she was a Republican, Fenwick always attributed her party affiliation to, of all people, Hitler. “Hitler was elected (by over 80 percent of the vote, as I remember) in one of the most literate countries of the world, by a people preeminent in music, science and many other fields. And the government of that country proceeded to exercise the most cruel injustices against many of its people. It struck me as a hideous perversion of what government is meant to be, an institution designed to bring a just society.” And, it was social justice that was her driving force.

Where she used her voice most was as an advocate for human rights. As a freshman, Fenwick was responsible for legislation creating the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) which still exists today. The Commission monitors compliance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 which was a watershed agreement signed by 35 countries, including the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc countries, and NATO allies including the U.S. and Canada which changed the course of the Cold War.

President Ford always considered his signage of the Helsinki Final Act one of his major foreign accomplishments and one for which he was proud. “To my country these principles are not cliches or empty phrases…it is important you realize the deep devotion of the American people and their government to human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus to the pledges that the conference has made regarding the freer movement of people, ideas, and information. History will judge this conference not by the promises we make but by the promises we keep.”

And, President Carter carried the torch. In his inaugural address he said, “Because our moral sense dictates a clear cut preference for those societies which share with us an abiding respect for individual human rights. We do not seek to intimidate, but it is clear that a world which others can dominate with impunity would be inhospitable to decent and a threat to the well-being of all people.” Because of Fenwick’s personal commitment to human rights she was able to establish a national commission to monitor human rights, and she did, receiving letters from individuals and watch groups around the world.

Watching the recent 60 Minutes interview of “The resilient Senator Scott Brown (R-MA)” it reminded me of a profile Morley Safer did thirty years earlier of Fenwick. “Fenwick is an elegant, literate dead-honest legislator whose somewhat patrician manner gets on some people’s nerves and amuses others. She has often defied the Republican Party line, championing consumer causes, women’s rights and civil rights long before they were fashionable.” She received low scores from groups like the American Conservative Union and perfect scores from Common Cause, and near perfect ratings from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Like Brown, Fenwick was a rising star in the Republican Party and widely popular in her state. Both had independent streaks and no qualms about reaching across the aisle. Despite being a Republican, Fenwick didn’t often vote along party lines. In fact, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), once said, “When I disagreed with [Fenwick] I felt unclean and immediately would go home and take a shower because on those very rare occasion when I voted the other way, I knew I was wrong because she always voted on principle.”

Brown and Fenwick also have something else in common, they capitalized on their handsome good looks. Brown was a centerfold for Cosmo and used his modeling money to pay for law school, Fenwick modeled for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue where she went on to become a copy editor and worked her way up as an associate editor, to support her two young children.

Unfortunately, Fenwick’s rising star faded after eight years in Congress. Due to the 1980 census and gerrymandering, Fenwick’s old district had been redrawn. Instead of running against another congressional incumbent she decided to run for a vacant Senate seat and lost to newcomer, Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), in 1982. Her loss was a shock, but it did not dampen her dedication to public service.

Not long after the defeat, President Ronald Reagan appointed Millicent Fenwick as the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Rome. It was the perfect ending to a 50-year career in public service that began with the local school board and ended in a country for which she felt at home and where her brother-in-law was an Italian Count. Fenwick’s fluency in Italian and French, and passion for the issues, served her well at the FAO.

In 1987 Fenwick returned home to Bernardsville, New Jersey. It is there that she was raised, and there that she died in her sleep in 1992, at the age of 82 years old, after the ring had been donated, her friend had visited, and her checks had cleared. A bronze statue at the local train station now commemorates this feisty, independent, conscience of Congress.

Green Eyes

On February 23, 1943, seven men crammed inside a B-25 bomber for a routine sea search over the Mediterranean. Only one man knew this wasn’t a routine mission, but Major Ivan Ferguson didn’t share that information with pilot Capt. Leonard Eddy, a school teacher from Nebraska; Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach, the navigator; Lt. Frank Hawkins, the co-pilot; Lt. Perry Pickett, the bombardier; Sgt. Milo Taylor, the radio operator, or Sgt. Hank Schave the gunner.

The Green Eyes crew took off on a crystal clear day from a base in Tunisia. At the time, the ground war was focused on the Battle of Kasserine, a key supply route through the Atlas Mountains in Central Tunisia. While the Allies fought the Germans on the ground, the Green Eyes crew took to the air and headed east searching for a supply convoy. They found one, and it was huge – fourteen ships in all.

As they swooped down to attack, the second wave of three bombers missed the signal. There were only three bombers remaining and one was quickly shot down leaving Green Eyes and their wingman to attack alone. They were successful, hitting the targeted convoy below. “It looked like the Fourth of July,” remembered Katzenbach, as he described watching the ammunition barge explode.

Katzenbach didn’t have much time to bask in the glory before Green Eyes was hit. As the bomber plummeted to the sea, Eddy miraculously maintained control of the plane which softened the blow as they made impact. To Hawkins, it still felt like they hit a “brick wall.”

All seven men survived the crash and floated on the Mediterranean Sea in life rafts for two days before being rescued by the enemy. For Katzenbach, that moment marked the beginning of his 27 months as a Prisoner of War. He was only twenty-one years old. Today he is ninety.