Showing posts with label 20th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 20th century. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Damn, Girl-Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller¹ was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and was an instrumental part of reshaping the way the United States Federal Government interacts with Native American Nations. During her eleven years as Chief, she brought running water and electricity to Cherokee in rural and impoverished areas, revitalized the reservation school system, and won back the right for the Cherokee people to control their own government funds and programs.

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Wilma
Born November 18, 1945, Wilma Mankiller was number six of eleven children living in a tiny four-room house. Her parents, Charlie Mankiller and Irene Sitton, were very poor, relying on food they grew themselves and itinerant agriculture jobs in Colorado to survive. Their home, located on Mankiller Flats², lacked both electricity and running water.

In 1956, Wilma's family participated in the government relocation program signed into law by the Indian Relocation Act of 1956. This act exchanged reservation land for homes and vocational training in cities. Around 30,000 Native Americans participated in the program, moving to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, and other large urban areas. Participants were promised reimbursement for moving expenses, as well as money to live on for a month after moving. This was widely seen by Native Americans as a way to improve lives for their children, as communities on reservations were, and continue to be, very poor.

Much to Wilma's chagrin, her parents decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and packed up their home. They chose to relocate to San Francisco, as it was close to where Irene's mother lived. Wilma was distraught by this move. It was a complete culture shock for her, moving from a tiny rural community to a large city.

Life didn't improve much for the Mankillers in the city. The Federal Government reneged on their deal, and much of the assistance promised to the Mankillers, as well as thousands of others, never arrived. For many Native Americans this meant homelessness, as the promised money and jobs never materialized. For the Mankillers, this meant that Wilma's father and brothers had to work long hours in factories, and the family lived in a dangerous housing project.

Wilma graduated high school in 1963 and married Ecuadorian businessman Hector Hugo Olaya de Bardi shortly after. In an interview with an Oklahoma radio station, Wilma described Hector as being handsome and kind. He wanted to rescue her from her life of poverty, and he very much wanted Wilma to be a traditional 1960s housewife. They had two daughters together--Gina and Felicia--and lived happily for several years.

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The Occupation of Alcatraz lasted 19 months
before fizzling out and dying. 
Everything changed for Wilma when a group of Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island on November 20, 1969. In a movement comparable to the 2016-2017 Standing Rock Protests, a group of native and non-native protesters gathered on Alcatraz island and refused to leave. The Occupation of Alcatraz was based off the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie, an 1868 treaty between the US Federal Government and the Lakota people which stated that abandoned federal lands would revert back to the tribes who previously occupied them. When the Alcatraz penitentiary closed down in 1963, the land once again became native property. However, as is always the case, the US Federal Government had no intention of honoring this treaty. The issue of Alcatraz may have been swept under the rug entirely had not a group of 89 Native Americans claimed the island.

The occupation was an eye-opener for Wilma. San Francisco of the '60s was a wild place at the heart of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements, and Wilma was no stranger to activism. Her parents had been involved in organizing community programs, and she was surrounded by young people attempting to make a difference. However, the occupation inspired Wilma to get involved herself. She followed the occupation obsessively, and visited and fund-raised for the protesters, taking them food with her young daughters on several occasions. She was also inspired to do some research into her own history. She read stories about the Haudenosaunee, and realized how Eurocentric the historical narrative being presented in schools was, and she decided to help educate the public about native history. She held public forums and sponsored films about native history.

During this time, Wilma also started to seriously get involved in social work. Realizing that dropout rates among Native American teens were rising, Wilma helped create after-school programs for Native American students and became the Indian Affairs Coordinator for the Oakland School District. All of this gave her valuable experience that would help her later.

While Wilma was doing fantastic things for her community, her activism was hard on her personal life. Her husband, never too keen on his wife doing non-wifely things, had grown even more chagrined as she started and completed college and started to get more and more involved in native affairs. In 1977 they divorced, and Wilma moved her and her two daughters back to Oklahoma.

Arriving back at Mankiller Flats, Wilma saw how poor her community was. She wanted to build up her community, so she began to collaborate with the Principal Chief of the Cherokee nation, Ross Swimmer. She created and served in the role of Community Coordinator, helping to oversee social programs for the nation. She also began to study infrastructure development as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Wilma had a considerable commute between her work and school, and in 1979, she was involved in a catastrophic traffic accident that would claim the life of her best friend, Sherry Morris. Wilma had been driving up a hill when Sherry attempted to pass another vehicle on a blind curve. Wilma and Sherry collided head on, destroying the two cars. Wilma had to be cut out of her car and was rushed to the hospital. Her ribs, face, and left leg had been crushed, and her right leg broken. Sherry Morris died in the ambulance.

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Cherokee Nation Headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Wilma worked here from 1978-1995.
The accident would result in Wilma spending a year in recovery. She spent much of that year in a wheelchair. She also developed myasthenia gravis, a disease which made it difficult for her to chew or speak. She continued to work when she could however, and she eventually recovered. She would later attribute her recovery to her integration of the Cherokee idea of "being of good mind" into her life. For Wilma, "being of good mind" meant accepting what the Creator threw at her and finding the positive in her circumstances.

This was just one of many periods of health difficulties in Wilma's life. She would later have to have a kidney transplant and have cancer three times.

Following recovery, Wilma remained busy. She honed in on the Bell Community, a tiny town in rural Adair County. Much like Mankiller Flats, Bell was deeply impoverished. A quarter of the homes didn't have indoor plumbing, and almost none of them had running water. Homes were dilapidated to the point of danger, and school enrollment in the community was dropping. Bell wasn't on the Cherokee reservation, but most of the citizens were Cherokee, and several spoke only Cherokee. Ross Swimmer and Wilma agreed that something needed to be done. They decided that the Cherokee Nation would team up with Bell to approve the community. The nation would provide engineers and materials, and Bell would provide the manpower.

This kicked off a several years' long coordination project between the Cherokee Nation and Bell. Wilma hit the road along with Cherokee traditionalist and activist, Charlie Soap. The pair would spend many hours persuading Bell citizens to cooperate with the nation and coordinated community efforts for different projects.

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Bell, Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, Bell had 535
residents.
The biggest achievement of this project was the Bell Waterline, a sixteen-mile-long pipeline that brought fresh water to the community. The pipe was built in two-mile segments, with each segment being done by a different family. It was Wilma's job to make sure that each person was performing the right job at the right time in the right place. The project was a wild success, leading the way for future community development projects. The project also led to Wilma marrying Charlie Soap. They would remain married until her death in 2010.

With the Bell project behind her, Wilma was beginning to become quite well known. Still, it was a surprise to everyone when Ross Swimmer asked her to run as his deputy chief in 1983.

There was significant pushback at the announcement of Wilma's candidacy. Many voters didn't like that she was a woman, a Democrat, an outspoken activist, and new to politics. Campaign signs with her name on them were burned, her tires were slashed, and Wilma received death threats.³ Many of the people running for Tribal Council along with Swimmer threatened to not run if he didn't drop Wilma from the ticket. Swimmer refused. He would later tell Wilma that he wanted her as his deputy chief because she loved what she did and she was honest with money. They won with a slim majority.

Finally, instead of petitioning government officials to allocate funds to community projects, Wilma was able to allocate funds herself and get social programs done. She and Swimmer worked together for two years before he stepped down to head up the Bureau of Indian affairs, leaving Wilma as the first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Though she experienced resistance from some members of her Tribal Council, Wilma won their respect. She would be elected for two more terms, retiring in 1995.

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Wilma's autobiography
During her time as chief, Wilma oversaw a great deal of social improvements. She helped build clinics in rural areas, revitalize failing schools, and create housing. Under her leadership, infant mortality levels went down and education levels went up. Employment rates doubled, and tribal enrollment tripled. Notably, in 1990 she was instrumental in negotiating a self-governance agreement from the US Federal Government that, for the first time since 1907, allowed the Cherokee people direct control over their own funds and government programs.

Wilma passed away from pancreatic cancer on April 6, 2010. She left an enormous legacy behind her and greatly improved the lives of her people. She spent her life working to fix the un-glamorous problems of poverty and left her community much richer for it. She received recognition for her work in 1998 when President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Honor.


If you want to help continue Wilma's life's work, you can donate to the Wilma Mankiller Foundation here.


¹"Mankiller" was a title given to high ranking warriors in small Cherokee communities. This title belonged to one of Wilma's forebearers and was assigned to the family as their surname by a census official. "Mankiller" is, without doubt, one of the most epic surnames available.
²Mankiller Flats is part of the 160 acres allotted to Wilma's great-grandfather in 1907. Cherokee lands that had once been held in common were allotted into 160-acre plots. As of 2009, Wilma's family held 100 acres and her cousins 60.
³Wilma told the aforementioned Oklahoma radio station that during this time she received several phone calls from an unknown number. The caller would call, say nothing, cock a gun, and hang up.

This article edited by Mara Kellogg.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
Makiller: a Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller and Michael Wallis
Wilma Mankiller-National Women's History Museum
Wilma Mankiller-Encyclopedia of World Biography
About Wilma-Mankiller Foundation
Wilma Mankiller-FemBio
Wilma Mankiller-Women on 20s
Just Doing "What I Could", Wilma Mankiller Changed Native America-Smithsonian Voices
October 13, 2008 Radio Interview With NPR
August 13, 2009 Interview with Voices of Oklahoma


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

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Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

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Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

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A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

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1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

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Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
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Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
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After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

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The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


More on Similar Topics



Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Al Capone Buys My Booze-St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Prohibition

We've spoken before about St. Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny speck of France in the middle of Canada. Known today mostly for its status as a geographical oddity, from 1924-1933, it was a bustling center of trade and the safest harbor for rum runners in the world.

1919 saw the passing of the Volstead Act, which prohibited alcohol in the United States. 1900-1914 saw the passing of prohibition acts in every Canadian Province, and in 1915, Newfoundland, not yet part of Canada, held a referendum that prohibited alcohol as well. This was, as one might imagine, wildly unpopular, especially in the United States. Because of this, "rum runners" started smuggling alcohol into the US, mainly from the Bahamas.

Rum running, especially from the Bahamas, was dangerous. Being caught by the authorities could end in the confiscation of your cargo and being thrown in prison. It was highly lucrative as well, and could result in a weekly profit of tens of thousands of dollars.

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Bill 'the Real' McCoy
One of these rumrunners was Bill "The Real" McCoy. He was one of the first and most successful rumrunners, and it was he who first started rum running off St. Pierre and Miquelon.

It was the early 1920s, and Bill McCoy was having a bad month. One of his two ships had been captured by the US Coast Guard and the other, the Tomoka, was in need of repairs. He had docked in Halifax, but the authorities there weren't about to let him fix his law-skirting vessel unless he dumped his cargo, and McCoy wasn't having that. He was angrily pacing around a hotel lobby when he had the luck to run into a Monsieur Folquet.

Monsieur Folquet was a native of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and not only could he get McCoy's ship fixed, he could also help McCoy expand his business. Unlike their neighbors, St. Pierre and Miquelon, being part of France, was not a "dry" country, and they also hadn't signed the Liquor Treaty of 1924, a joint agreement signed by Canada and the United Kingdom to not allow exports of alcohol to the United States. Importing and exporting alcohol to and from St. Pierre and Miquelon was perfectly legal.

Additionally, St. Pierre and Miquelon would be able to get a wider variety of alcohol than the Bahamas. While Canada was a dry country, Canadian distilleries were still cranking out the goods. Distilling was legal, but selling to a country where Prohibition was the law, including Canada, was not. To export their goods, Canadian distillers had to pay a significant bond certifying that they were not selling to a dry country. To get this bond back, they had to have a valid landing certificate, stamped and signed by a "wet" harbor. This was massively expensive in the Bahamas, which had a significant alcohol import tax. St. Pierre and Miquelon, however, did not have the same hefty taxes as Nassau, and was significantly closer.

McCoy jumped at the chance to partner with Folquet, and before long, they had a thriving, semi-legal rum running business on St. Pierre and Miquelon. The islands experienced an economic boom as more revenue than had ever been seen before rolled into the island. The main industry of the islands had previously been fishing, but with the lucrative import and export business going, most of the fishermen left their boats to work in warehouses, wrapping and re-packing bottles of alcohol for shipping.

One would think that the French government would object to the smuggling that used their overseas territory as a home base, but, on the contrary, they encouraged it. The only legal hurdle McCoy had faced to using St. Pierre and Miquelon as a booze hub had been the laws prohibiting the importation of foreign sugar, molasses, and alcohol to French colonies. A petition to the French government from Folquet saw this law struck from the books. French inspectors who came to the islands reported that the islands needed the rum running trade to prevent financial collapse, and so Paris did nothing and allowed St. Pierre and Miquelon to do its dirty business.
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Modern St. Pierre

For nearly ten years St. Pierre and Miquelon was the epicenter of the bootlegging business. They played host to rum runners and gangsters, and, most notoriously, Al Capone.¹ Capone visited the islands to see where the booze that was making him rich came from. He, reportedly, had the islanders scared stiff. When he joked about robbing the local bank, the police were discreetly called. If Capone noticed the islanders uneasiness, he didn't take offense. When one islander nervously complimented his hat, Capone gave him the hat. That hat is in one of the local museums to this day.

Unfortunately, all good (or bad) things must come to an end, and when the Volstead act was repealed in 1933, the island's economy collapsed almost overnight. There was no longer any need for a middle man, as Canadian companies could ship directly to America. Though discreet rum running operations continued into the mid-1990s, rum running on St. Pierre and Miquelon is, essentially, a dead business.



¹Maybe. Some historians argue that the tale you are about to read is nothing more than island lore.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

More on Similar Topics



Sources
Rumrunners: the Smugglers from St. Pierre and Miquelon and the Burin Peninsula from Prohibition to the Present Day by J. P. Andrieux
St Pierre and Miquelon: the Original Gangster's Paradise
This Tiny French Archipelago Became America's Alcohol Warehouse During Prohibition

Friday, March 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary Walker, Civil War Surgeon

Dr. Mary Walker was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and served as an army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. A dedicated reformer, Mary advocated for universal suffrage, abolition, dress reform, and temperance. She organized a relief system for the wives of wounded soldiers, and wrote two books. She remains, to this day, the only woman to have won the Medal of Honor.

Image result for mary walkerMary was born in Oswego New York on November 26, 1832 to the unusual Alvah and Vesta Walker. (Alvah is the father.) Mary was the youngest of seven children--six girls and one boy. Mary's parents were eccentric for the times. They believed in sharing the work equally, and Alvah could often be found doing household chores. They allowed their daughters to dress however they liked, not forcing them into the restraining corsets and long skirts of the time, which both rightfully believed squished a girl's internal organs. To cap off the unusual Walker family, their home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Alvah had an interest in medicine, and a sizeable library of medical texts. Alvah and Vesta encouraged Mary to read as many of the medical books as she liked. Both of the Walkers were big believers in education, with Vesta being a school teacher. All of their children were educated through primary school, and all of the daughters went into teaching at one point in their lives.

Mary worked briefly as a teacher, and in 1855 she entered and graduated Syracuse Medical School. Her course at Syracuse was only 39 weeks--three semesters of thirteen weeks each, which seems an almost irresponsible amount of training to give a doctor today, but was standard for the time. Mary chose Syracuse because it admitted women, and because it was known for its non-quackery. In an era where bloodletting and leeches were still common practices, Syracuse focused on more homeopathic remedies, and modern innovations.

After graduation she married her classmate Albert Miller in an unusual ceremony where the bride wore pants, struck the 'obey' clause from her vows, and refused to take her husband's last name. Mary and Albert set up a practice together, and seemed to have been quite successful, with Mary treating the women and children, and Albert the men. Mary began to write about dress reform, and to present medical evidence in favor of this at important conferences. However, in 1859 this all ground to a halt when Mary discovered that Albert had been cheating on her. Mary tossed Albert out, and travelled to Iowa, where it was easier for women to obtain a divorce. Though it took several years, Mary eventually divorced Albert, and began life anew.

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Mary, wearing her controversial bloomers
costume.
After the First Battle of Bull Run,  Mary decided to join the Union Army Medical Corp. She had nothing tying her down--Albert was long gone, her solo practice was a bust, and she had no children. Mary believed that she had a lot to offer as an army surgeon, so she went to Washington DC to ask for a commision.

Unfortunately, the Union Army wasn't accepting female surgeons, or female anything really. Frustrated, Mary decided not to let a lack of pay stop her from doing what she wanted. She instead started volunteering as a nurse at the Patent Office Hospital, working under Dr. J.N. Green. Sources differ about what happened at this point. Some sources say that Dr. Green desperately need an assistant surgeon, and Mary filled that role. Others say that she did basically everything but surgery--dressing wounds, running errands, and entertaining patients. Whatever she did, Mary impressed Dr. Green so much that he recommend that she be given a commission.

This recommendation was, of course, ignored, and Mary briefly went back to medical school in order to boost her credentials. She graduated from Hygeia Therapeutic College, and started volunteering in hospitals up and down Virginia.

Mary was very outspoken about her opinions on how the war should be run. She published editorials suggesting that, in order to boost flagging enlistment numbers, former criminals could be enlisted, and even offered to serve as their surgeon. This gained the attention of war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, who was definitely not going to create a regiment of former felons, and definitely didn't appreciate a lady having ideas. He gave Mary a posting, if not a commission or salary, to serve as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Regiment in Tennessee.

This was on the front lines, and there Mary faced a bit of difficulty. Wandering around a battlefield in skirts and petticoats was a terrible idea, and Mary had never been fond of dressing in typical Antebellum clothing anyways. In fact, she had been arrested several times for dressing like a man, and was frequently harassed for wearing a bloomer costume. On the front lines, Mary abandoned all pretense of dressing like a woman, instead donning a uniform, and making herself a green sash that denoted her as a member of the medical corp.

Mary caused a bit of trouble with the 52nd with her, then, unconventional medical practices. An opponent of amputation, Mary felt that surgeons often rushed the decision to amputate, and that most wounds would be better treated by homeopathic remedies (like bandages and medicines) then amputation. When the male surgeons wouldn't listen to her, she talked directly to the patients, urging them to refuse amputation.

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In her later years, Mary almost
exclusively wore men's clothing.
Unsurprisingly, Mary faced a great deal of misogyny with the Ohio 52nd. Though her commanding officer, George H. Thomas, didn't care that she was female, the male surgeons cared very much. They didn't believe that she was capable of performing her duties as a surgeon, and even arranged a medical 'review' for her skills, which they then failed her on. Despite this, Mary refused to resign, and her commanding officer did not dismiss her. When the other surgeons refused to give her patients, Mary turned to treating civilians.

Deep in Rebel territory, Mary was treating the wives and children of Confederate soldiers, many of whom were in hiding from the Union army. She is reputed to have taken supplies from Union stores in order to treat the unfortunates displaced by the war. It was during this time in 1864 that she was captured by the Confederacy.

Now, there is some debate as to why Mary was captured. Some sources claim that it was because she was wearing men's clothing while being a Union soldiers, but other sources, including US Government Agencies, claim that it was because she was spying for the Union. In 1865 a federal judge put on the record that Mary had been a spy for General Sherman's army. Despite this record, there's some debate over whether or not Mary was up to espionage. However, this historian would like to posit that, while treating Confederate civilians, Mary would have several excellent opportunities for intelligence gathering.

After being captured, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond. Castle Thunder was nicknamed 'the Southern Bastille', and not without reason. While in prison, Mary was treated abysmally. She was given only moldy bread and maggot ridden rice. She contracted bronchitis, lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and had to deal with fleas and bedbugs. Her eyesight was permanently damaged by the gas burning lamps in the prison. She would remain at Castle Thunder for four months.

After being released Mary was celebrated far and wide for her heroics in war, even meeting President Lincoln. Edwin Stanton still denied her request for a commission, but she was given $432.26 in backpay, and was officially put on the US Army payroll. She was dispatched first to a women's military prison, then to an orphanage. When the Civil War ended in 1865 Mary was discharged from the army.

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Mary's habit of wearing a top hat did not endear
her to the rest of the suffragettes.
Even after being discharged, Mary continued to lobby for a commision. President Andrew Johnson was in favor of this promotion, but military officials refused to give Mary a commision, fearing that if they gave one woman a commision, all the women would want commissions. Instead, President Johnson gave Mary the Congressional Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to this day to be awarded the honor.

After being discharged, Mary took up work as an activist and reformer. She had some experience with this, having run a relief society for the mother's of wounded soldiers during her time at the Patent Office Hospital. Unaccompanied women who had come to see their wounded sons or husbands were rarely able to find lodging, and Mary organized a society that arranged places for those women to stay. She also, on several occasions, went over enemy lines to retrieve wounded sons or husbands for distraught women.

Upon realizing that the many nurses who had served during the war had received no pay during the war, or pension after, Mary took up their cause, and by 1872 had browbeat Congress into giving the nurses a pension of $20 a month, despite the fact that she herself would not be successful in getting a pension for another two years.

Mary was also active in the suffrage movement, specifically in the area of dress reform. She was arrested several times before and after the war for wearing men's clothing, and was quite proud of the fact. She gave lectures about the negative health effects of constrictive clothing. Because of this she was quite controversial, and other suffragettes didn't want her associated with the cause.

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Mary's Medal of Honor
Mary also took up her pen, publishing two books, Hit in 1871, and Unmasked: or the Science of Immorality in 1878. Both books argue for equality in a marriage, and for temperance and universal suffrage, but it is in Unmasked where Mary really hits hard. In a book as bitingly relevant today as it was when it was written, Mary puts forth the theory that if women could control their sexual urges, men could too. She argues that marriage should be a contract between social equals, and that just because a couple was married didn't mean they were allowed to rape each other.

In 1874, Mary was finally given a pension of $8.50 a month. However, in 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded in an act of congress that took medals away from 911 individuals. The reasoning behind this was that the Medal of Honor could only be earned if the wearer had served in combat, which Mary hadn't. Continuing to wear the medal was a misdemeanor, but when a soldier came for her medal, Mary told him that he could take it over her dead body. She wore her award every day until her death.

In 1880 Alvah Walker passed, leaving Mary his farm. Mary spent the rest of her life there, traveling between New York and Washington DC, lecturing and agitating for change. In 1919 she had a fall on the steps of the US Capitol, and died shortly after.

After her death, her family crusaded tirelessly to have her Medal of Honor restored. In 1977, they were successful, and Mary's medal was officially restored to her by President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is on display in the Pentagon.


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Sources
Amazing Women of the Civil War: Fascinating True Stories of Women Who Made a Difference by Webb Garrison
Women of the Blue and Grey by Marianne Monson
Mary Walker-National Parks Service
Meet Dr. Mary Walker--the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Walker and the Medal of Honor
Mary Walker-Biography
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker: Doctor American Civil War Women

     

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Gilbert Baker and the Rainbow Flag

You may have never heard the name Gilbert Baker, but you've definitely seen his work. Baker was fashion designer, drag queen, and the creative genius behind the rainbow flag.

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An original design pride flag, including hot pink and turquoise.
San Francisco of the 1970s was a haven for LGBT people of every stripe. With the groundbreaking election of Harvey Milk in 1977, the Gay Rights Movement was gaining momentum. As more and more legislation to protect LGBT people was introduced, and as more and more legislation to oppress LGBT people was being fought, the need for a unifying symbol of the greater Gay Rights Movement was needed.

Previous to 1978 the pink triangle had been used as the symbol for the movement. The pink triangle was introduced in the 1930s as an identifying mark for gay men in Nazi concentration camps.¹ Activists in the 1970s attempted to reclaim the symbol, but the pink triangle still held (and still holds) negative connotations, and memories of pain.

Enter Gilbert Baker, drag queen and sewing machine wiz. He was asked by Milk and other members of the San Francisco LGBT community to create a better symbol for the movement. In a moment of inspiration, Baker decided on a rainbow--a cross cultural symbol of hope.

Creating the first flag was an enormous undertaking. Gilbert had to hand dye the individual strips of cotton, filling several metal trash cans with dye, and soaking the fabric at the local gay community center. Baker recruited several friends to help with the dyeing process, and his flag made its debut at the 1978 Gay Liberation Parade.

The rainbow flag commonly used today has six stripes--on for every color of the rainbow excluding indigo. Baker's original flag had eight colors--hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, purple. The hot pink was dropped from the flag a few months after its inception. After Harvey Milk's assassination in November of 1978 demand for rainbow flags was high, and there was a shortage of hot pink fabric. The turquoise was dropped in 1979 in order to make the flag more symmetrical.

Each color in the flag has an assigned meaning. The meanings assigned to the original eight colors are:
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Gilbert with his flag after its acquisition by the Museum of
Modern Art in 2015.

  • Hot pink for sex
  • Red for life
  • Orange for healing
  • Yellow for sunlight
  • Green for nature
  • Turquoise for magic
  • Blue for serenity
  • Purple for spirit
The modern flag has kept many of the same meanings, with only the meaning of blue changed from serenity to harmony.

Today, Baker's original flag resides in the Museum of Modern Art, and replicas of his flag fly in all countries of the world, creating a common symbol for a diverse, worldwide community.




¹Unfun fact: Lesbians put into concentration camps were given a black triangle, as Hitler refused to acknowledge that lesbianism might exist. These ladies were, instead, labeled as 'anti-social', or as living a way contrary to the norms of society.


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Sources
When We Rise by Cleve Jones
Gilbert Baker Official Website
Gilbert Baker Biography

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bass Reeves, the Fiercest Lawman in the Old West

Widely considered to be the inspiration behind the fictional Lone Ranger, Bass¹ Reeves lived a larger than life existence of adventure hunting criminals in the old west. One of the first African-American Federal Marshals, Reeves caught more than 3,000 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gunshot wound, or being able to read.

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Bass Reeves, sporting a truly epic
moustache.
Born in 1838, Bass spent the first few years of his life enslaved in the newly minted state of Arkansas. He and his family were owned by William Reeves, a wealthy farmer and popular southern politician. William Reeves eventually decided to relocate to Texas, and Bass was assigned to be a valet to Reeves' son, George. When George went off to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War in 1861, Bass went with him.

Bass' time serving with the Confederacy was brief. Though dates are unsure, it is generally agreed upon that in some point between 1861 and 1862 Bass escaped after an altercation with his master during a card game. From Texas, Bass fled to Indian Country, the land that would later become the state of Oklahoma.

While in Indian Country, Bass became friendly with members of the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek Nations, learning their languages, tracking techniques, and fighting for the Union with them.

Bass was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and when the war ended in 1865 he married, bought a farm in Arkansas, and proceeded to have ten children. Bass was a successful farmer, but he was more well known for his skill with languages and knowledge of Indian Country. In 1875 he was made a deputy US Marshal, and charged with the responsibility of cleaning up Indian Country.

Indian Country at the time was a pretty lawless place. Because it wasn't under the authority of any state government criminals could only be prosecuted by the federal government, and could only be chased down by federal authorities. While tribes were allowed to organize their own law enforcement, they only had jurisdiction over Native Americans, leaving white and black criminals the responsibility of the harrassed and understaffed US Marshals.

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Isaac Parker, the 'Hanging Judge'. Parker earned
this epitaph from the many criminals he sentenced
to the noose during his vigorous efforts to rid the
West of crime.
In May of 1875 Isaac Parker, later known as 'the hanging judge' was put in charge of a portion of the west that included Indian Country. He authorized the hire of some 200 deputies, and Bass Reeves was one of the top picks. From there he set out on a more than 30 year career that would see him become one of most famous lawmen of the Old West.

Life as a U.S. Marshal was busy. Bass would spend weeks away from his family, hunting down outlaws. When he finally caught his man, Bass would return to the courthouse at Fort Smith. He would spend a few days with his family back in Arkansas, then head back out.

Bass was at something of a disadvantage when it came to crook catching, because, as a former slave, he had never been taught to read. Because of this, he had to have warrants read to him. Bass would memorize the contents of several warrants before heading out on a manhunt. These manhunts could last months, giving Bass ample time to forget the contents of the warrants, but Bass was a sharp cookie. Despite the fact that he had to rely on his memory, he never brought back the wrong man.

There were times when Bass even used his illiteracy to his benefit. It was well known that Bass couldn't read, and there were several instances of Bass being captured by outlaws, and asking them to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Bass would take advantage of their moment of distraction to draw a gun on them, and take them in.

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Bass Reeves
Bass was bold and imposing, standing at 6'2, but he was also a master of disguise. A famous story recounts how he disguised himself as a bum, dressing himself in rags and a hat riddled with bullet holes. He came up to a homestead belonging to the mother of two outlaws Bass was hunting. He spun a sad story about how he was being hunted by the marshals, and how they had shot the hat right off his head. Sympathetic, the woman let Bass into her home, and suggested that he should team up with her two sons. Bass agreed, and when the two outlaws came home Bass agreed to join them. However, when everyone was asleep Bass handcuffed the two brothers together. When they woke up the next morning they were angry, but Bass still managed to haul them back to Fort Smith, despite being pursued by the men's irate mother.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass found himself abruptly out of a job. Marshal duties were taken over by the new state government, who did not allow African Americans to serve. Bass joined the Muskogee Police Department, and spent two years as a beat cop. Legend says that there was never a single crime on his beat.

In 1909 Bass was diagnosed with Bright's Disease. He died a few months later in  January of 1910. 

Bass was one of the most effective lawmen of the time. He caught over 3,000 criminals, and it is notable that of that number, he only ever had to shoot fourteen of them. He is widely considered to be the inspiration behind the popular cartoon character, the Lone Ranger, though this has never been confirmed. Either way, Bass remains an Old West legend.


¹Pronounced with a short 'a', like the fish, not with a long 'a' like the musical instrument.

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Sources