U.S. history, music, myth, and literature

Written by  //  November 19, 2013  //  Arts and culture, U.S.  //  No comments

Lincoln, JFK and Obama: What links the US presidents?
(BBC) They are two of the most important dates in American history – and they are just days apart.
Gettysburg AddressTuesday 19 November marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln as he tried to bring together a divided nation during the US civil war.
On Friday, 22 November it will be 50 years since President John F Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas, Texas.
Although they occupied the White House a century apart, the two men both sought to use the power of federal government to impose change on conservative states – and made fierce enemies as a result.
Nation long remembers short remarks by Lincoln on Gettysburg Address anniversary
At just 270 (sic) words long, one of the most memorable speeches in American history was delivered in the midst of the nation’s most deadly war. Jeffrey Brown reports on celebration of the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s address at the Gettysburg Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
Gary Wills: The Words That Remade America — The significance of the Gettysburg Addres
(The Atlantic) IN THE AFTERMATH of the Battle of Gettysburg, both sides, leaving fifty thousand dead or wounded or missing behind them, had reason to maintain a large pattern of pretense—Lee pretending that he was not taking back to the South a broken cause, Meade that he would not let the broken pieces fall through his fingers. It would have been hard to predict that Gettysburg, out of all this muddle, these missed chances, all the senseless deaths, would become a symbol of national purpose, pride, and ideals. Abraham Lincoln transformed the ugly reality into something rich and strange—and he did it with 272 words. The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration.
150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln praised ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ – but the words were not his
(Telegraph, UK) On November 19, 1863, at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln, weak and lightheaded with an oncoming case of smallpox, made a speech that lasted for just over two minutes, and ended with his hope “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Those words have been quoted ever since as the supreme vindication of representative government. Indeed, they are often quoted as proof of American exceptionalism. But the words were not Lincoln’s. Most of his hearers would have recognised their source, as our generation typically does not. They came from the prologue to what was probably the earliest translation of the Bible into the English language: “This Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” The author was the theologian John Wycliffe, sometimes called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” Astonishingly, they had first appeared in 1384.
24 August
A Big, Beautiful Midcentury Map Celebrating American Folklore

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This map, by social realist artist William Gropper, was created to showcase the diversity of national myths and folk stories and was distributed abroad through the U.S. Department of State starting in 1946. (You can see it up close by navigating to the map’s page on the website of the Library of Congress.)

Gropper, born in New York City’s Lower East Side to a working-class family, deeply identified with labor movements and the Left throughout his life. He worked as a cartoonist for mainstream publications New York Tribune and Vanity Fair, as well as the leftist and radical newspapers Rebel Worker, New Masses, and Daily Worker. During the Depression, like many other out-of-work artists, Gropper designed murals for the Works Progress Administration.

The “folklore” on display in this richly illustrated map is a soup of history, music, myth, and literature. Frankie and Johnny are cheek-by-jowl with a wild-eyed John Brown; General Custer coexists with “Git Along Little Dogies.” Utah is simply host to a group of “Mormons,” in which a bearded man holds up stigmata-marked hands to a small group of wives and children, while a figure labeled “New England Witches” flies over New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

So many of these stories are now unfamiliar that the map makes an excellent portal for investigation. I’m from New England but had to look up the origin of “Evangeline” (the figure that decorates Maine). Turns out, the name is a reference to a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about the expulsion of Acadian inhabitants from Nova Scotia in the 18th century. (An early 20th-century book and a 1929 movie adaptation had likely kept the Evangeline myth fresh in Gropper’s mind.)

The presence of this map in American information offices overseas provoked Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s suspicions. As Gropper’s biographer Louis Lozowick writes, the 1953 summons to testify for the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about the map was quite ironic, given that its content was anything but subversive. McCarthy simply didn’t like Gropper’s past associations. Gropper pled the Fifth and refused to testify for McCarthy—a stance that lost him many commissions.

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