Juneteenth

The Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Boston activist Ben Haith. The design’s Red, White and Blue reflects America’s Declaration of Independence. The Arc curving across the middle represents New Horizons for African Americans. The Nova in the center is the astronomical burst of new beginnings for African Americans

Juneteenth—also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day or Emancipation Day, became a National Holiday on June 19, 2021 after President Joe Biden signed it into Law.

The history of Juneteenth began when President Abraham Lincoln, after much thought, crafted The Emancipation Proclamation to free enslaved persons in Confederate states. Dated September 22, 1862 it became effective on January 1, 1863. With the Civil War raging, the freed Blacks could possibly join the Union effort and help bring the collapse of slavery.

Through General Order No. 3, the task of spreading the Proclamation was assigned to Union Army Major General Gordon Granger. He mustered his troops and tread across the southern states and territories announcing the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865 the General arrived in Galveston, Texas where Order No. 3 was posted at Union Army Headquarters, the Customs House and the Negro Church on Broadway. At that time there was an estimated 250,000 enslaved people living and working on plantations of owners who’d fled the Civil War in the east. The date “June 19” quickly spread throughout the enslaved community melding the two words into Juneteenth.

Emancipation ushered in the Reconstruction era where for a few decades beginning in 1869 through 1901, nearly two dozen freed Blacks were elected to Congress. Some Blacks farmed their own land and schools opened for Black children. Celebrations of Juneteenth which began in the south soon spread among other African American communities with parades, picnics and speeches.

On Juneteenth is a book by Annette Gordon-Reed, a Pulitzer Prize Winner and Texas Native. This easy to carry book of 141 pages was published in 2021. Gordon-Reed, who grew up in Texas, offers the reader a quick introduction to Juneteenth’s inception and that state’s early life before it became part of the Union in 1845.

“Galveston Texas June 19th 1865.

General Orders    No. 3.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

. . .    

“The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

          “By order of Major General Granger

                    F.W. Emery

                    Major A.A. Genl.

Reading out of context

Across America School Board meetings have become contentious environments, where extremist groups express their bigotry against marginalized people, be it their race, ethnicity, gender identity or religion. One active and well entrenched group in Bucks County is—

Woke Pennsylvania:

“a grass roots organization working to reclaim our schools”.

This group planned to read sexually explicit passages at the March 8 Central Bucks School Board Meeting. The passages, lifted from LGBTQ published books—can be found on the woke website. Public comments limited to 3 minutes, are scheduled at the top of the meeting’s agenda.

“The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, Nobel Laurate and recipient of numerous literary honors, is one of the books on the Woke website. I decided to attend and read a selection from this her first novel, published in 1970. Three of her novels and one of her nonfiction books snuggle on my bookshelf. “The Bluest Eye” isn’t among my four; however, a dear friend lent me her copy.

Morrison’s words sing across the page. When reading the sentences, I’m in awe of the story she weaves. I settled on a passage from the first few pages where words always entice a reader to turn the pages until reaching The End.

Thirty-eight people registered to speak. The room was full. I recognized the usual suspects—attendees from the previous four meetings. As each strode to the dais, they announced the title then filled with indignation, read the excerpt. Then they demanded the book “… be removed from the school library”.

While waiting my turn, I scanned the room, wondering how many of this vociferous crowd had ever voted prior to the 2021 school board elections. The crowd is also displeased with some of the sitting board members, calling out their names demanding they resign.  A speaker from an extremist political action committee—Back to School PA—furiously waved a glossy 4-page document, exclaiming that ‘dark money!’ helped elect 3 Democrats to the board.

(If you visit the Central Bucks School District website, there is a link to a recording of the February 8 meeting. The public comments begin at 30.00 minutes.)

There were speakers advocating for the Library Bill of Rights—American Library Association policies for school libraries as well as several others who opposed removing books from school libraries. A retired teacher—Speaker #16 and recorded at 1.17.15–spoke eloquently how books help some children “… make sense of their lives”.

I remember when a handful of people would attend these meetings. The Covid virus along with decisions to open or close schools and policies regarding masked or no masked students, pushed any concerns about education to the back of the room. Now, the book banners are in Bucks County and stealing all the oxygen out of the air.

The next Central Bucks School Board at 70 Weldon Drive, Doylestown, is scheduled Tuesday, April 12, at 7 pm.

We were called “Pinkos”

Using nuclear power to generate electricity is like using a chainsaw to slice a pat of butter.

Hal Marcovitz’s 12/30/21 piece in the Herald about the Point Pleasant Pumping Station stirred memories of my activism with the Central Bucks Clean Energy Collective. Any old heads still in Bucks that had protested the pump, know the “Collective” was an upstart group of environmentalists against withdrawing up to 95 gallons of water a day from the Delaware River. The water, diverted across Bucks and Montgomery County through streams and reservoirs, was destined to the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant near Pottstown, for cooling the fuel rods in the reactor.

After the March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Harrisburg, the anti-nuke protests ramped up in Bucks and many places across America. We never were able to verify a rumor that PECO initially had proposed to build their nuclear plant along the bucolic banks of Pt. Pleasant. Once denied, their compensation prize was the pumping station.

People power escalated. Letters flooded local and area newspapers, citizens showed up at the Wednesday Bucks County Commissioners’ meetings–many speaking eloquently and with knowledge, about nuclear power and saving the Delaware. At one special County Commissioners meeting, the anti-nukes outnumbered the other side, composed mostly of construction workers, builders and realtors. Abby Hoffman came out of hiding and settled in Bucks County helping with organizing peaceful protests.

We even marched in a couple local parades carrying our huge banner with a lonely duck in the water saying, No Delaware Water To Limerick. Labeled “Pinkos” by pro-pumpers, in the early 80s, the Clean Energy Collective sponsored a Teach-in at Buckingham Friends School with workshops on conservation, solar panels, solar voltaic cells and wood burning stoves. I presented the path of uranium from its mining on Native lands to its radioactive half-life burial in the ground. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey was our Keynote Speaker, probably the only member at that time in the early 80’s who could speak about energy policies.

By 1988 when construction of the pumping station began, over a hundred protestors staged a demonstration. Arrests were made. When a lawsuit filed by environmental group Del Aware suing Bucks County, PECO and Montgomery County Water Authority, construction was halted for months. The Court battle ended, the pump was built and interestingly, houses began popping out of the ground all over Montgomery County. Some years ago the Pt. Pleasant Pumping Station shut down, its walls collapsing into one other.

In recent years proponents for alternative energies are speaking with loud voices. Construction costs for nuke plants is astronomical; yet the “suits” are beating the drums to build again. There’s talk about conservation and wind or solar funding but the solar industry in America is pretty much owned by China.

In a November 22, 2021 Pottstown Mercury article by Evan Brandt—

“The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has signed off on a plan by Exelon Corp. to divest itself of its fleet of 23 nuclear power reactors, including the two at the Limerick Generating Station.

Exelon Corp. will transfer the NRC licenses to a new company, currently called HoldCo, as part of a corporate restructuring, the NRC announced on Nov. 17.

There is no money changing hands.”

  

Reading in the Time of COVID

During the worst months of the COVID lockdown, I’d read five non-fiction books focused on the African American experience. My first was Historian David W. Blight’s biography–Frederick Douglass Profit of Freedom; then two books written by Isabel Wilkerson–Caste and The Warmth Of Other Suns; then the autobiography Becoming by Michelle Obama; and lastly Annette Gordon-Reed’s Juneteenth.

I finished reading the last of the five books just as the hottest educational topic, Critical Race Theory (CRT) became the lightning rod for attendees screaming at school board meetings. To be clear, this is the meaning of CRITICAL RACE THEORY (CRT):  A curriculum designed for discussion at the university level by law students.

Extremists on the right successfully grabbed CRT and reduced it to a lesson that is taught to students from elementary to high school. Not True.

It didn’t stop there. A school board representing students in York, Pennsylvania announced their banning of nearly 50 books for grades K through Senior High. Numerous books on this list were written by African Americans or other people of color—some from outside America. Students’ protests were successful in forcing the York School Board to revisit their decision.

The five non-fiction books I’d read during COVID will go on the shelves of my bookcase along with works about the Vietnam War, religion, politics, women, government, science, Native Americans, biographies, children’s books, fiction and metaphysics. Among this eclectic assortment of books are seven authors whose writings have been banned: William Styron, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, W.E.B. DuBois, J.K. Rowling and Vladimir Nabokov.

One other slim but powerful book on my shelf is the image below. Eleven published writers associated with PEN International (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists). As noted on the front cover, “Burn This Book is a collection of essays that explore the meaning of censorship and the power of literature to inform the way we see the world, and ourselves.”

Edited by and with an introduction by Toni Morrison.

My next post will include a review of Historian David W. Blight’s award-winning biography–Frederick Douglass Prophet of Freedom. I hope to counter the ignorance about African American history often expressed by those who say–“Black people need to move on… stop talking about the past.”

Science — 1793

Someone once told me, a book often languishes on our shelves, patiently waiting for the time when we will finally read it. In 1984 I had spotted “The Book of Philadelphia” by Robert Shackleton at a book fair, piled among many others on a table with a poster stuck at the top that announced: FREE BOOKS! My eye had caught the title because some of my ancestors had settled in Philadelphia. I grabbed the book, carried it home and there it rested until about a month ago when I pulled it off the shelf.

Published in 1918, the pages of “The Book of Philadelphia” radiate a musty odor wafting up from heavy fibered paper, indicative of books published a hundred years ago. The edges of each page are lined with a brownish tinge while some pages throughout the book, display sketches, either of streets, buildings or people—each image protected by a leaf of delicate tissue, yellowed with age.

I skimmed through the book and paused when discovering a few sentences about the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia.

What a coincidence! Bucks County is in the midst of a Covid epidemic. In addition to the hospitalized and the dead, people are refusing the vaccination and/or wearing masks. There have been protests against closures and lots of unhinged individuals behaving badly in public spaces. Compared to this 21st Century pandemic chaos, how I wondered, did the People of Philadelphia survive the 1793 pandemic? Mr. Shackleton devoted two pages where he briefly mentioned Dr. Benjamin Rush; the plague and treatment, just enough to whet my curiosity.

That year of 1793 the population in Philadelphia was around 50,000. Shackleton describes a city already established with narrow streets and brick row houses. In August 1793 the first death was reported. Soon thereafter people were dying in the streets. Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, became the leader in fighting the plague, soon identified as Yellow Fever. The doctor believed “putrid exhalations” in the air caused the disease; and he ordered cleaning the unsanitary conditions at the docks, rotting food, and the sewage system.

Dr. Rush organized crews to roam the city, pick up the dead and carry them to burial sites. Philadelphia was the Nation’s Capital. Soon nearly 20,000 people fled this hot and humid summer including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and much of the federal government taking refuge in Germantown. Some citizens blamed the plague on blacks arriving in Philadelphia after fleeing the revolution in the French Caribbean colony (now Haiti).

The doctor believed the blacks were immune to the disease and pleaded for help from black community leader Absalom Jones, an abolitionist and clergyman who founded the first African Methodist Episcopal Church. The African Americans became instrumental in all tasks from nursing, cart drivers, coffin makers and grave diggers. When the plague began infecting the black community with sickness, 240 African Americans died. The estimate by modern scholars is that close to 5,000 people died during the plague. It spared no one.

Absalom Jones

There was no cure or vaccine for Yellow Fever. Samuel A. Gum’s article described how Dr. Rush kept meticulous notes and developed a treatment of “…blood leaching and purging …a mercury compound as a method to purge the bowels.” When the doctor fell ill with Yellow Fever, he instructed one of his assistants administer the treatment to him. He survived as well as many other hundreds of others who received his treatment.

I close with this: Considering that 200 years ago, the various ingredients Dr. Rush must have experimented with, it was Science that saved those lives.

NOTE:

(An undated article published in the Pennsylvania Center For The Book, titled “Philadelphia Under Siege: The Yellow Fever of 1793” by Samuel A. Gum Philadelphia was my source for much of this post.)

The portrait of Dr. Benjamin Rush can be viewed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. This is the cover of a biography written by Harlow Giles Unger, September 11, 2018. Dr. Rush was also the Founder of Dickinson College, where a statue has been placed.

CHOCOLATE – VANILLA ICE CREAM and ORANGE POPSICLES

(Photos by Doreen Stratton)

DSC_5406

“This is what Democracy looks like!”

That message was shouted by hundreds of citizens at rallies held on the Doylestown Court House lawn. The former guy is gone but he dropped a trail of destruction after his four years in office when he nearly shredded the U.S. Constitution.

On April 6, 2016 I posted “The Power of Voting” on my blog The Bucks Underground Railroad. In the five years since then, much has changed. That post had referenced the book, “BOUND for CANAAN” by Fergus M. Bordewich—an author of several nonfiction books about 17th 18th and 19th Century America.

Near the end of “BOUND… “, Bordewich wrote about the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Canada–a community of fugitive slaves. By the 1860s this sanctuary–established by the Presbyterian Synod—had settled mostly Blacks who had fled the oppression of America for a new “home”. No longer chattel, they were Canadian citizens with all the Rights of Freed men. They worked their own land or earned a living in their shops.

White Canadians in Buxton opposed the Blacks in their country. They circulated a petition describing Blacks as “…a distinct species of the Human Family … far inferior to that of the European.”

Edwin Larwill, publisher of the local newspaper and Canadian Parliament member, announced his candidacy for office on a platform to establish a poll tax. But Reverend William King—a co-founder of the Elgin Settlement—reached out to every fugitive slave eligible to vote after he learned of Larwill’s plans, which included sending the fugitive slaves back to America. Rev. King then registered these new Canadian citizens to vote. It resulted in Edwin Larwill losing and the descendants of the freed slaves who had arrived in Buxton in 1849–still there to this day.

NOW:  THIS is what white Privilege looks like!

The threat of Free and Fair Elections in America is here. According to a June 10, 2021 article in “Mother Jones”, 24 new laws in 14 states have been created to suppress the Right to Vote, pushed by the zealous supporters of #45. Unable to accept defeat, they’ve ripped off their superior blinders and discovered America’s New Map.

America has become a bowl of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. When mixed together, America is now a delicious taste to the palate.

I can’t wrap my head around the men and women whose allegiance to the US Constitution  Protect and Preserve has morphed into bowing down to a dangerously unbalanced man. Truth be told, the pale faces sitting silent in the U.S. Congress and state legislative bodies across America, have sucked up too many creamsicles.

ALL of them are suffering from brain freeze.

DSC_5541 (2)

That poison plant is gone from the White House

Californians traveling their Freeways whizz past decorated foliage thriving along road dividers. I still remember, when living in that state, how attractive it was to view these lovely green-rich shrubs of brilliant pink or red blossoms. Oleander (nerium oleander) is a native from the Mediterranean, brought to California because they thrive in environments where vehicle exhaust or drought conditions exist. But their leaves are extremely poisonous.

Oleander on Freeway
nerium oleander

While lounging in the White House, the former guy watched television, dismantled government programs or golfed on my tax dollars. He also lied every day, as if the poisonous leaves from oleander bushes destroyed any lingering common sense remaining in the brain cells of the lemmings who followed him. The former guy’s only success after four years was a legacy of destruction.

The January 6 assault on the Capitol threatened the end of Freedom in America. When I published Siege Against Democracy on February 17, I wrongly believed that there would be a Major Investigation as who-why-how the insurrection had happened. We came thisclose to flipping America into a dictatorship.

A faux “investigation” of the insurrection was just released by the Senate. My voice is hoarse from screaming at Senator Mitch McConnell when his announcement amounted to Nothing To See Here. Yeah, Mitch.

Tell that IN PERSON to the Capitol Police, Senate and House staff and essential workers who every day revisit the trauma they had experienced from that violence.

Now’s the time for us to burn up the phone lines to each of our state and federal elected people, a lot of them who believe that this is over, that we “… must move on.”

Nope. Not me.

Counting backwards to Jelly Beans

Doreen Stratton Photo

“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot but there are those in power doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting…”

–remarks by former President Barack Obama’s eulogy at the late Congressman     John Lewis’ funeral last July 2020

The Jim Crow tactic of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar was a popular voter suppression tactic even after the 15th Amendment allowed people of color to vote. Instead, jelly beans in a jar and other suppressive methods succeeded in denying people that look like me the Right to Vote.

In an October 30, 2020 article by Paducah KY Journalist Chris Yu of NBC Affiliate WPSD, he referenced an 1895 copy of a poll receipt provided to him from Brent Taylor, an Associate Professor of History at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The receipt–for $2.50–was the amount many Blacks were required to pay before they could vote at their polling place.

Registering to vote was yet another hurdle often denied Blacks. In the same article Yu interviewed a Washington, DC artist who shared the experience his father had endured in a 1940 Tuskeege, Alabama literacy test. The question the applicant must correctly answer: How many windows are there in the White House?

Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature, as if not terrified enough of losing their seats by carving Legislative Districts that look like Rorschach tests, has proposed 14 separate bills designed to eliminate our Right to Vote.

Published on the Brennan Center for Justice website is a comprehensive report titled, “Voting Laws Roundup: February 2021”. Among the proposed assault on our Right to Vote, Pennsylvania’s list of 14 includes eliminating no excuse mail voting; eliminating permanent early voting lists; prohibiting ballot drop boxes; and the rejection of absentee ballots.

Dear Republicans Legislators in Harrisburg: How many jelly beans are in THIS jar? (HINT: 5″ tall; 3″ in diameter)

Doreen Stratton Photo

Difficult, right?

 

Siege Against Democracy

My high school class trip to Washington DC had bussed us around to historical landmarks, but it wasn’t until as an adult, when a return to the District presented me with the thrill of walking around these sights.

In December 1980 my cousin Lynda and I had packed our bags for a week-end getaway. We drove south on I-95, our destination Carrollton, Maryland which is just outside Washington, DC. We settled in the home of relatives Leon and Margie–hanging out, listening to music, gabbing incessantly, while sampling foodies washed down with our special beverages. This and other subsequent weekend getaways to Maryland often included spontaneous Midnight Drives around DC’s streets—empty and silent.

Leon was a DC police officer, and as our guide he was aware of the quickest routes through the city. Staring out the window from my back seat, whenever we passed government buildings, I sensed an energy in the air, as if the pulse of the Nation’s business of that day had hunkered together in anticipation of the next day’s challenge.

This midnight drive was a stop and walk  at the Lincoln and then the Jefferson monuments. Approaching them at night, there’s no comparison if a visit had happened during daylight. At night floodlights caress the monuments, radiating the historical command of these two former Presidents: Lincoln through his brooding face; Jefferson standing in that egotistic pose.

Between 1983 and 1987, traveling to the Capital had opened another sojourn. Then I was employed in the Congressional District Office of former Congressman Democrat Peter H. Kostmayer.  When the DC office became overwhelmed with a large volume of  tasks requiring quick results, we traveled to Washington and helped them in their efforts.

Anyone reading this who’d ever walked along the halls of the Congressional or Senate Office Buildings, or recognized names etched on plaques outside their offices, or took the elevator down to the tunnel and ate in the cafeteria, or peeked into a committee hearing room, or stood in the middle of Statuary Hall, or gazed up at the art in the Rotunda ceiling, would know that any of those experiences were unforgettable.

(Doreen Stratton Photo from the 2017  Women’s March)

The Capitol is our National Treasure;  and on January 6, 2021 our Government was violated by people consumed with ignorance and hate,  intent on destroying  Democracy.

Hypnotized in front of my television, I watched in horror when goons—encouraged by cult leader Trump–marched from the ellipse to the Capitol. A flood of bodies trampling across the grounds toward the Capitol. Surely, I thought these people would not dare climb the steps; that they would stop at the bottom and scream their rage, bluster and flag waving.

They charged up those steps as if shot from a cannon. They smashed glass and crawled through windows, then roamed the halls hunting for elected public servants to kill. It was horrible

They rampaged throughout the Capitol splashing their ignorant, ugly, crude, vile, racism everywhere.

Five people are dead and 140 or more are suffering from severe bodily injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

AMERICA’S NEW NORMAL

The siege on the Capitol brought an American New Normal. A 7-foot fence topped by concertina wire now surrounds the Capitol with National Guard troops patrol the outside perimeter while stationed inside the building.

A February 5, 2021 article in “The Hill” reported 42 GOP members had sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi requesting that the fencing come down. No decision has been made,

On February 13, 2021 the second Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, the Senate voted NOT GUILTY for his January 6, invitation to destroy Democracy.

With Trump’s latest *Get Out of Jail* card, the barbarians remain emboldened. Talks continue for an Independent Commission to Investigate the Siege on the Capital.

Make it happen.

A Stratton Christmas Open House

The pungent aroma of enamel paint recalls memories of Mom touching up the baseboards and sills throughout the house. It was a pre-holiday task—the first of many–she began soon after Thanksgiving, that culminated in our annual Christmas Eve open house when friends and relatives dropped in for season’s cheer.

As teenagers we attended Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; however, only my older siblings were “allowed to stay up” and mingle with family and friends who dropped by for holiday cheer. Awake upstairs in bed, my sister Judith and I listened as each doorbell chime welcomed more people gathering around the dining room table, nibbling Mom’s hors d’ oeuvres and sipping Daddy’s potent eggnog while carrying on multiple conversations.

One Christmas a Lionel Train set with transformer, tracks and cars was gifted from Frank and Lillian Ely, owners of a reputable women’s and men’s shop in Doylestown. They employed Daddy as a driver when required; and on weekdays Mom prepared their lunch and dinner. The Lionel train became a standard addition every Christmas, relegating the eggnog punch bowl, cups and goodies to the buffet server.

Too young for eggnog and other spirits, the chatter mixed with the Lionel train whizzing around the track, were the sounds drifting upstairs into our bedroom. The distinct voice of Uncle Sheridan—a Philly cop whose off-color jokes were better than any stand-up comedian—was commanding laughter from the adults collected around the dining room table.

Our patience gone, we’d creep down to the landing and look across the living room to the stockings tacked on the fireplace.

(Doreen Stratton Photo)

We’d holler, “Did Santa get here?”

“No!”, a chorus of adults hollered back from the dining room. “Go back to bed!”

It’s December 2020; this year there will only be three of us. We’ll continue our Stratton Christmas without an open house. Judith will again conjure Daddy’s eggnog recipe and bake dozens of fancy cookies. Decorations will adorn the mantle, shelves and the outdoor front entrance. But the chatter from friends or family will be absent, a silence throughout the rooms and walls of our home where our ancestors always celebrated the holidays.

The Covid-19 virus is the Evil Grinch who’s stolen Christmas from people we know and for hundreds upon thousands of others whom we do not. I’m an optimist praying America’s nightmare of struggle and agony and grief and sorrow and pain and loss will dissipate.

Please be safe this holiday season so all of us will be here next Christmas.

(Doreen Stratton Photo)