MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s speech that day, as well as audio from a 1968 delivery in DC.

Continue reading

Kylie Jenner and The Cult of Self-Made

The internet had a collective meltdown after Forbes described Kylie Jenner as “self-made” last summer. Many critics railed against Jenner’s privileged upbringing; others pointed out socioeconomic systems are inherently unequal; and the rest mostly noted there’s no such thing as self-made — no person’s an island, no lipstick developed alone, and all that.

One’s opinion of Jenner’s self-made status aside, the “self-made mogul” kerfuffle presented a terrific opportunity to explore the origins of “self-made” in America, its centrality in our national myth, and the dangerous expectations it creates.

I didn’t have a chance to write about this very pressing matter when the story first broke, but now, as 2018 comes to a close, here are a few words on Kylie Jenner and the timeless cult of “self-made.”

Continue reading

ICYI 2018 Year in Review

Whoa. Where did 2018 go? I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s nearly done now. To celebrate, here are ten of my favorite stories from ICYI over the past twelve months, in no particular order.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Problem

Join, or Die, America’ First Meme

All the LGBT Books Around My House

Was Pocahontas Her Real Name?

Lyndon Johnson Hated The Graduate

“Daybreak,” Over and Over.

16 Posters By Graphic Great Lester Beall

The Incredible Arthur Ellerman

Found in the LOC: A Cat’s Autobiography

Paul Revere: Art Thief

ICYI: Wyoming First In Women’s Suffrage, 1869

Hats off to Wyoming, which on this date in 1869 became the first territory or state to grant women the right to vote.

Sure, the all-male legislature’s intentions weren’t the truest. Some hoped to drum up good publicity for Wyoming. All of them were Democrats, and many hoped to secure partisan favor among potential female voters. And some simply wanted to attract more women to Wyoming for procreative purposes – or, at least, sex.

Regardless of the lawmakers’ reasoning, the measure passed 7-4, and was soon signed by Republican Gov. John Campbell. Women voted in Wyoming the next fall. But things didn’t go as Democrats planned: women leaned Republican that year.

Bitter as all hell, Democrats tried to rescind the women’s suffrage the next year, but Gov. Campbell used his veto power to put a stop to that. Later, in 1890, when Wyoming was transitioning from territory to state, the U.S. Congress also urged them to excise women’s suffrage from their state constitution. But this time lawmakers from both parties refused, a move that helped cement Wyoming’s nickname, The Equality State.

On a related note: check out a recent post on awesome women’s rights activist Dr. Mary Walker.

Hercules: Gilbert Stuart’s Most Fascinating Subject

Gilbert Stuart was the Annie Liebovitz of his day: Every power player wanted to sit for one of the painter’s portraits, and many did, including six sitting presidents, many of their wives, congressmen, merchants, and “influencers” of the era. No doubt you’d recognize his most famous work: the George Washington portrait Dolly Madison saved from the burning White House during the War of 1812.

That said, looking at a gallery of Stuart’s work becomes tedious. It’s white face after white face, powdered wig after powdered wig — but wait, here’s someone interesting: the only person of color in his collection. It’s a man known only as Hercules, George Washington’s enslaved chef.

Continue reading

Found in the LOC: 15 Walker Evans ‘Praise’ Shots

Building off Tuesday’s post on James Agee, today’s Found in the LOC features 15 Walker Evans images taken for the men’s mutual project, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Evans (1903-1975) never dreamed of photographing the down-and-out while growing up in Chicago’s affluent suburbs. His first love was French literature, and it was that subject that consumed his early, and brief, college education at Williams College. Frustrated by American academia, Evans left Massachusetts to spend 1925 in Paris before returning to the US, specifically New York City, where he worked as a Wall Street clerk.

It wasn’t until 1928 that Evans began taking photos, and it began as just a hobby –  snapping the Brooklyn Bridge and historic Boston homes. But things got more serious as the decade drew to a close, and in 1931, Evans shot the images for Carleton Beals’ The Crime of Cuba, about life on the island under Gerardo Machado’s iron fist. This work caught the attention of officials at the New Deal government’s Resettlement Administration, which in 1935 dispatched Evans to cover the Great Depression in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. This role in turn led Evans into the Farm Security Administration, for which he did similar work, only in the South, paving the way for Evans’ work with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and the production of singular images that became as synonymous with the era’s trials and tribulations as Dorothea Lange’s.

Continue reading

Dr. Mary Walker Wore Pants, Fought for Vote in 1800s

In February 1870, while visiting New Orleans on a speaking tour, the activist and medical doctor Mary Edwards Walker was assaulted and arrested by a police officer. As he twisted her arm and dragged her away, the irate cop hissed something to the effect of “Have you ever had sex with a man?”

He asked this because Walker was wearing what had become her standard uniform: men’s trousers under a knee length skirt and a top hat. Such progressive fashions were just one of the many ways Dr. Walker fought patriarchy circa the late-eighteenth-to-early twentieth centuries, and this was just one of the many situations in which Walker’s non-conformity inspired invective. But this manhandling by an angry man didn’t dissuade her then, nor would it in the decades that followed.

Walker, who was born in this day in 1832, had faced down such sneers for years, ever since she began wearing men’s trousers in her youth. Her parents, progressive Christians who taught Mary and her six siblings to always question authority, encouraged this rebellion. They didn’t subscribe to gender norms — her father did the “woman’s” work at their family farm in Oswego, New York — and believed that women’s wear was not just oppressive, but unhygienic.

Mary took these lessons to heart, and for the rest of her years she argued against corsets, long skirts and all other prescribed women’s wear that hindered their movement, physically and metaphorically. Wearing pants showed patriarchal America she wouldn’t be held down. She even wore pants at her 1855 wedding to Albert Miller, an event at which she refused to include the word “obey” in her vows. As she would say later, “[Men] are not our protectors. If you were, who would there be to protect us from?”

Continue reading