American Bigotry: 1832, 2018

Just a note, in case you’re interested: On this date in 1832, virulently racist President Andrew Jackson named Elbert Herring the first commissioner of the recently reorganized Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Freshly incorporated into the War Department, this newly emboldened agency soon enacted, at Jackson’s specific request, the forced removal of thousands of Native Americans from their rightful land, leading to the Trail of Tears. This wasn’t the first time Indians would be kicked off their land, nor would it be the last, but it was the largest such event of its kind, and the most brutal: an estimated 2,500-6,000 died as they were shoved west and involuntarily settled on reservations.

On a related note: Donald Trump cites Jackson as an inspiration. Could Jackson’s anti-Indian attitudes be inspiring the current president’s use of ICE to round up and detain Mexican immigrants, even those who are already naturalized citizens?

Found in the LOC: 5 Alcoholism PSAs, 1972-1976

I recently celebrated six years since my last alcoholic beverage. Awesome, right?! I think so, especially since I started drinking at age 12 or 13 and by the end of my journey, at age 31, I was waking at 6am just to take a slug of whiskey, of which I drank at least a liter daily before passing out in a puddle of sweat and filth on my frame-less mattress, as I had done the day before, and the one before that, and before that, too. You get the idea.

By the time I hit bottom I was unemployed, kicked out of my apartment and penniless.  Luckily, I had friends and family willing to help me down the road to recovery. And now here I am: I have a roof over my head, steady work, a boyfriend and a cat, and, most importantly, an incredible sense of accomplishment for having freed myself from a cycle of shame and regret.

With that in mind, and with discussion that alcohol perhaps played a role in Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides, here are five vintage PSAs about alcoholism, all government-issued between 1972 and 1976. Why don’t such things exist today? I haven’t done too much research, but my educated guess is that it has something to do with liquor lobbyists and political persuasion and some agreement that a small “please drink responsibly” print fulfilled the companies’ legal obligations, even though The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found in 2105 that 15.1 million adults suffer from alcoholism in the United States, while 26.9% of adults reported binge drinking that same year.

Meanwhile, alcohol contributes to 88,000 deaths annually, and that’s not counting drunk driving deaths (almost 10,500 in 2017), nor does it consider the contributing role alcohol plays in non-fatal domestic and sexual violence (an estimated 100,000 cases each year). In other words, alcohol has vast destructive potential too often ignored.

If you are struggling with your alcohol usage, please check out Alcoholics Anonymous or another dedicated group. I’m proof that even the most desperate of cases can free themselves from alcohol dependency. It takes hard work and a lot of honesty and you may lose some drinking buddies, but it’s far less than what could be taken from you in the long run: your life.

Anyway, check out these dope alcoholism PSAs, AFTER THE JUMP….

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Found in the LOC: Telegraph Repair, 1862

On this date in 1844, Samuel Morse typed out the first telegraph, sending a message from DC to Baltimore: “What hath God wrought?” Quite: we all know the technological revolution would accelerate exponentially in decades ahead, ending with, at the moment, smart phones. Who knows what will be next… Something more inescapable, intrusive and indispensable, that’s for sure.

That said, today’s truncated Found in the LOC is an image of a telegraph repairman doing his thing circa 1862. He’s like a high-tech lumberjack!

(And for more Found in the LOC, click here.)

Zora Neale Hurston Helps Ex-Slave Tell His Tale

In 1860, while minding his own business in his native West Africa, 19-year old Cudjo Lewis was snatched, chained and stuffed in the crowded and putrid hull of a ship called Clotilda. When he reemerged he was in  Alabama, where the young man was forced to work on a plantation. This despite the fact that the importation of new slaves to America had been prohibited for nearly 50 years already.

Five years later, once emancipation had been declared and the Civil War over, Lewis and some of his friends from his plantation, many of whom were also on Clotilda*, created their own town, Plateau, where they lived freely for the rest of their days, living witnesses to one of the most horrific experiences in history: the slave passage overseas.

It was to this tale that young author  Zora Neale Hurson was drawn, and in 1927, she traveled to Plateau to interview Cudjo. Four years later she returned for a three-month stay, meticulously noting his every sentence, word and syllable and creating an unprecedented account of his kidnapping, enslavement and new life in freedom, providing an unparalleled and invaluable testimony to one of humanity’s lowest moments. Shockingly, no publisher would touch it, largely because publishers felt his vernacular proved too hard for average readers to grasp. And so, the story went unpublished and forgotten. Years passed.

Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God, Lewis went on living in Alabama. He died in 1935, aged 94, and she followed in 1960, and their collaboration continued sitting on a shelf at Howard University for another six decades— that is, until today. Literally today, because the HarperCollins imprint Amistad today releases Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” which offers readers an unprecedented look at the cruelty experienced by millions whose own stories have been lost and obscured by centuries. Perhaps Lewis’s can be a proxy for all those whose lives were lost and otherwise obscured by the most devastating and indeed terrifying aspect of human history.

You can buy a copy here — and you really, really should.

*Side fact: QuestLove descended from another slave on that ship.

Today is a Good Day for Adventuring

May 14th sure is a great day for launching unprecedented expeditions: it’s on this date that both the Lewis and Clark adventure and SkyLab took off to new frontiers, albeit almost two centuries years apart.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left the St. Louis region on May 14, 1804, for their continental traverse to the west coast, an adventure that riveted the nation in relative real time: readers devoured every update sent back east and inspired no shortage of unofficial “official” maps based on the men’s dispatches. Never before had Americans seen just what lay between them and the pacific and these images, as well as the official reports, expanded the American imagination to its greatest heights, tilling the rhetorical soil for the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny and other political notions that propelled the nation’s sojourn from sea-to-shining sea.

Meanwhile, fast-forward 169 years, to 1973, and there’s NASA launching SkyLab, the nation’s first long-term space station into the stars, creating a floating laboratory in which astronauts could conduct experiments on how bacteria grew in space, dissect various light rays without the pesky atmosphere eroding them and examine long-term space exposure’s impact on the human body.

Unfortunately, the lab was damaged by a micrometeoroid storm in 1974 and deemed too dangerous to house astronauts, and so SkyLab remained unused in space for five years, until 1979, when it came crashing back to earth. But, as with Lewis and Clark, SkyLab’s record-setting mission encouraged the next generation of Americans to push themselves to even greater heights. Pun partially  intended….