Monthly Archives: March 2013

The St. Joseph County Public Library will read “The Killer Angles,” Michael Shaara’s historical novel about The Battle of Gettysburg, during this year’s One Book, One Michiana  event. Linda Conyers, the library’s head of public programs said that 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle, and Shaara’s book fit the occasion.Libraries across the area will start six weeks of Civil War related activities starting on Monday.

The 1993 movie “Gettysburg” is an adaptation of Sharra’s book. The book and the movie may be about the battle, but Abraham Lincoln’s shadow hovers over every major event that took place during the war That is especially true of The Battle of Gettysburg because of the The Gettysburg Address, the Nov. 19, 1863 speech that Lincoln gave near the end of a ceremony to dedicate the cemetery located in a portion of the battleground.

The speech that made Lincoln a transformational leader followed a two hour plus speech. In an address that lasted half as long as a listener commentary on WVPE, Lincoln expanded the conflict’s meaning beyond the legalistic rationale about preserving the union.

Prior to Gettysburg, Lincoln acted as a pragmatic, rational leader employing realpolitik that Yale professor Steve Smith described in his Notre Dame  lecture. Lincoln’s reluctance about explicitly framing the war as being about slavery resulted from his understanding that many in the north were ambivalent about fighting the war over slavery.

Lincoln didn’t like slavery. However, once the war started his moves to acknowledge black humanity could be justified on the basis of strategic necessity. Some say that the  Emancipation Proclamation was only of symbolic significance because  it only freed slaves in the states that seceded from the union. Yet, many of those freed slaves left the plantations whenever the Union army claimed rebel territory..

Allowing blacks to fight provided the Union army with 183,000 additional troops.  Both decisions support Smith’s assertion that Lincoln’s decisions were grounded in rationality and the constitution.

Lincoln drops the rational and legalistic prose and adopts the poetry and transformation and freedom in The Gettysburg Address. The president connects the civl war to the advancement of freedom that began in America 87 years earlier. By doing so, Lincoln explicitly links the fate of the slaves with founding principles of the nation. That was a bold statement in 1863. It is especially bold when considering that the Union’s war prospect and Lincoln’s reelection prospects were far from certain. Yet, the freedom agenda enunciated by LIncoln at Gettysburg has continued to advance since Nov. 19, 1863.


Robert Moses was a highly educated man who grew up in Harlem. The early rumblings of the youth centered protest movement stirred Moses to go south. Naturally, he sought out Rev. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. However, many in that organization did not know what to think about the quiet, hardworking man who wore horn-rimmed glasses.

Some suspected that Moses might have been a communist – people in the movement worried about communist infiltration because movement opponents used that accusation to discredit the groups. Some may have even thought that Moses was an FBI informant.

Moses soon fell under the sway of Ella Baker, another SCLC staffer viewed suspiciously by the SCLC’s patriarchy because she was a female who was not sufficiently deferential to the organizations clergy based leadership. She also adhered to his novel leadership style  called participatory democracy.

Moses started working with Baker around the time that the latter became an advisor to the student sit-in movement that ultimately led to the creation of one of the movements most important organizations SNCC. SCLC leaders may have hoped that Baker would convince the students to merge with the older organization. She advised them to remain independent.

From Baker, Moses learned the importance of entrusting the people to leadership responsibility. That lesson paid dividends when Moses became SNCC’s field officer in Mississippi starting in 1961. Mississippi was a closed state rural and dangerous. Those who ran afoul of the power structure disappeared as if they resided in some South American country. Consequently, the civil rights establishment avoided the state. Native born Medgar Evers was the only national civil rights figure in Mississippi. He would be assassinated in 1963.

Before Moses moved to MIssissippi, Baker told him that he would have to rely on local leaders to gain trust and a foothold in the state. She gave him the name of Amzie Moore. Moore was the president of the Cleveland, Miss. branch of the NAACP. Moore had the kind economic independence that most Mississippi Delta blacks did not. He owned a service station and a farm. Moore had observed the student led sit-in and freedom rides movement with excitement. He understood that students would be willing to confront Jim Crow in a way that older black Mississippians could not.

Still, Moore had his own ideas on how the latent power of Mississippi’s students – once harnessed – should be used. Moore personally supported efforts to integrate lunch counters and Greyhound bus depots. However, he believed that what black Mississippians needed more than anything was the franchise. Moore and others drove home that point by giving Moses a tour and an elementary math lessons. Moore noted that the number of blacks registered to vote in many Delta counties could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet, the Delta was two-thirds black.

Moses listened to Moore and other black leaders. More importantly, he became a part of the community and used the credibility he earned from leaders such as Amzie Moore to register voters. The work was painstakingly slow and very dangerous. Moses was attacked by mobs and jailed on several occasions. Some people who worked with him were killed.

However, Moses’ work soon attracted the attention of young Mississippians such as Hollis Watkins, who joined the voter education and registration drive. The effort even sparked students to engage in the same type of direct action protest such as sit-ins employed in cities such as Nashville, Greensboro and Atlanta.

Moses noted that the activities in Mississippi also attracted the attention of SNCC officials in Nashviile. Soon, a few others outside organizers joined Moses. Yet, the efforts in Mississippi had a local feel. Of the 20 field officers in the state, 16 were native born.

By being willing to listen to, live with and work with those who understood the community, Moses was able to build an apparatus to challenge the state’s efforts to keep black disenfranchised. He also inspired and trained youth activists who brought direct action protest to MIssissippi.

The Biblical story of Moses resonated deeply in the black community. Antebellum blacks embraced the story of a man inspired by God to win the freedom of his long enslaved people. “Moses” was a logical name for Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who returned south 19 times to lead 300 plus slaves to freedom.

A little more than a century later, another freedom fighter went south to continue the work started by Tubman. That man’s surname was Moses. Robert Parris Moses grew up in Harlem where he became a brilliant student admitted to New York’s best schools. In 1961 the 26 year old Moses went south to participate in the Freedom Rides.

Moses ended up in Mississippi and he worked on education and voting rights in that most inhospitable of states for the next five years. Truly visionary leaders go places most people don’t go and they make connections that most people can’t make.

Community organizing in Mississippi in the early and 1960s invited harassment, intimidation and violence. That’s why only five percent of the state’s black residents registered to vote. The power structure targeted outsiders, and especially black northerners. That explains the unwillingness of national civil rights leaders to work in Mississippi. Moses risked and endured persecution to push for voting rights for the state’s black residents.

The Ivy League educated Moses gained instant credibility with the rural blacks because he listened to them. In 1964 more than 1,000 college students nationwide to converged on Mississippi. Their goal was to register people to vote. The effort became known as Freedom Summer and the work – registering voting age blacks, educating students and organizing the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the credentials of the segregated Mississippi  Democratic Party at the presidential nominating convention – was dangerous.

The Ku Klux Klan burned churches and beat volunteers. Three volunteers lost their lives. Yet, by the end of 1964, Moses, the Freedom Summer volunteers and activist residents such as Fannie Lou Hamer disproved the belief held by Mississippi whites and some black elites that rural black sharecroppers could not be mobilized.

By the early 1980s, Mississippi had more black elected officials than any other state. However, Moses observed economic changes that threatened the hard won advances blacks made during the civil rights movement. American’s transition to a post-industrial economy was under way by the 1980s. Moses, a brilliant math student, understood that modern society would reward people who gained math literacy and would punish those who failed to grasp higher level math – especially algebra.

Moses perplexed long time allies such as Dave Dennis when he started talking about math literacy being the next phase of civil rights movement. Dennis stated as much in the forward that he wrote to Moses memoir “Radical Equations.

“Poor Bob, I thought, disheartened. He’s lost his mind, “flipped out.”… “He’s out here comparing math to the civil rights movement, saying algebra is some kind of ‘gatekeeper’ course.” Of course, history proved the visionary leader Moses correct.

Moses won a MacAuthur Fellowship in 1980 for his work on what he calls the Algebra Project, an effort to improve math literacy among the poor with a particular focus on blacks and Hispanics. Moses uses the first chapter of his book to lay out his case for why such a literacy project is necessary. We’ve all heard the data that Moses uses because we’ve seen how the great recession delivered a punch to the gut – to use a phrase used by Mitt Romney during last year’s presidential campaign – to those trained to work in the old economy.

I will share one data point from this book that was written in 2001. Moses notes than 1.3 million high tech jobs went unfilled that year, and that number was expected to double by 2006. Moses makes a call for society to double down on math literacy in an insightful way that comes from being a leader who thinks about issues with the aim of taking transformational action.

Moses writes that society made great strides to combat illiteracy. Most people believe that it is unacceptable if a child can’t read at grade level. Yet, the same people assume that it is inevitable for all but the most gifted students to struggle in math. That mind set is simply not acceptable in post industrial America. Moses explains why and lays out his vision to combat math illiteracy in “Radical Equations.” I will spend the next few days reading Moses’ book and blogging about each of the chapters.

A “reporter” asked Stokely Carmichael about the position women held within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Carmichael responded, “prone.” The “reporter” was Carmichael himself. The “press conference” a rare moment of levity during the violence filed days of Mississippi Freedom Summer.

Carmichael and other members of SNCC gathered on a pier with a jug of wine when Carmichael launched into an improvised comedy routine. Carmichael’s one-word response to the “reporter’s” question prompted laughter from the other SNCC members.

Humor often serves as a way for people to address uncomfortable facts. Carmichael’s joke reflected the unfortunate reality of a movement rife with sexism and male privilege.

Let the men handle it

Sabina Peck wrote in the article “The Only Position for Women in SNCC is Prone” that leading movement figures the and male dominated media held the sexist views common during the “Mad Men”  era. Roy Wilkins was head of the NAACP, the organization that famously led the school desegregation fight. However Wilkins was not a progressive on women’s issues. He dismissed women such as Fannie Lou Hamer, saying they were “ignorant of the political process, should listen to their [male] leaders just return home.”

SNCC wasn’t free from sexist thinking even though the organization’s advisor and first student leader were women. Lawrence Guyot said that women should step back and let the men lead. Carmichael, however, had no problems working with women or following female leadership.

A woman’s work

Men held most of the movement’s leadership positions. However, women did most of the organizational work. Their efforts were not limited to clerical activities. Peck writes that women between the ages of thirty and 50 were three times more likely than their male counterparts to be involved in the movement.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott made the Rev. Martin Luther King a national leader. Rosa Parks sparked the movement, but she was not the first black women who refused to give her seat to a white person nor was she the only woman activist.The Woman’s Political Council monitored the mistreatment meted out to black riders for years. The group leapt into action after Parks’ arrest, organizing mass rallies at Montgomery’s churches and printing flyers to promote the meetings. Women also organized the cars that shuttled blacks to their jobs during the boycott.

The Army of the Lord

It’s  hard to talk about the civil rights movement without also talking about the black church because the movement was church based. The movement’s leaders were men who served spiritual leaders and movement leaders – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rev. Ralph AbernathyRev.  Fred Shuttlesworth,  of the  Southern ChristianLeadership Conference, and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam are all the best examples.

However, church was another institution where women comprised most of the members and did the bulk of the work. The of the WPC organized the bus boycott using skills learned in church. Despite their knowledge of church dogma, politics, their managerial skills most women of faith worship in congregations where they cannot become church pastors.

Drafts of history

Patriarchy prohibited women from rising to leadership ranks in the movement and the church. Patriarchy also excised women’s contribution from the first drafts of the movement’s history. Journalists created the first draft, and they focused on the male dominated leadership. Later drafts written as historical books and biographies provided a more complete view, and were the first to explore the key roles played by women.

Historians such as Juan Williams, the author of the book “Eyes on the Prize,” turned their attention to the contributions of grassroots and community level organizations. These histories were among the first to address the the contributions that women made to the movement. In the 1990s and 2000s, writers such as David HalberstamTaylor Branch and Diane McWhorter went deeper. Their research highlighted the key of people such as Diane NashElla BakerCatherine Burks and Fannie Lou Hamer.

The proof of the influence the first draft plays in setting historical priorities can be seen in the fact that  Parks and Coretta Scott King are the only female leaders widely known by most people.


Baker might be the most influential leader during the movement’s most active phase. However, when  she died in 1986, Baker knew that the sexism that prevented her from rising to a key leadership role would stifle her legacy in death.

That legacy included a healthy skepticism of charismatic leadership and the embrace of a more egalitarian model. Baker’s embrace on a new leadership model sprang from her time working in groups like the NAACP and inspired her to embrace a concept called participatory democracy.

Participatory democracy is a form of group-centered leadership in which all members of a group make decisions about philosophy, strategy and tactics. Baker brought the gospel of participatory democracy to SNCC when she became the group’s advisor. She became a valued advisor and was affectionately known as “Mama Baker” or “Fundi,” a teacher of great wisdom.

SNCC’s impact

By the early 1960s, the civil rights movement was floundering after not scoring a major victory since Montgomery. That changed when the student led sit-in movement managed to end discrimination at stores in Greensboro, N.C. and Nashville, Tn. Chicago native Nash led the Nashville movement. Nash attended historically black Tennessee State University. She became an activist after experiencing open and legal discrimination in Nashville.

After the sit-ins succeeded in ending discrimination in Nashville. a group of college students from HCBU’s from across the south met to plan their next move. They formed SNCC at this meeting and Baker became an advisor. She made several suggestions that would end up being historically significant. First, she encouraged SNCC to embrace participatory democracy. She also encouraged SNCC to resist overtures by the SCLC to merge.

The decision to embrace the participatory democracy model ensured that the SNCC kids examined the leadership potential of all of its members and not just those who fit the image of leaders. That meant that a woman such a Nash or a shy person  from a rural community such as John Lewis could become leaders.

SNCC’s decision to remain independent had major historical consequences because it freed the group to be more proactive than the  SCLC and NAACP. SNCC members played key roles in the movement’s successful efforts between 1961 and 1965. SNCC students injected energy into the Freedom Rides when the original Freedom Riders from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had been arrested or hospitalized after being attacked.

SNCC members embraced the controversial idea of using grade and high school students to protest discrimination among Birmingham’s downtown stores. The students filled Birmingham’s jails and Police Commissioner’s Eugene “Bull” Connor‘s decision to use brutal police tactics against the children enraged Birmingham’s black middle class elite and led to the ultimate resolution of the civil disobedience campaign known as “Project C.”

 SNCC members helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer Campaign in 1964 that led to the brutal slaying of three civil rights workers and the organization of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that challenged the seating of Mississippi’s segregationist delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention.

Nash and other SNCC members and alums began working an plans to fight for voting rights in Alabama in the aftermath of the 1963 church bombing that killed four girls. Their efforts culminated in Selma, Alabama and the ultimately successful march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery in support of voting rights. President Lyndon Johnson was able to push through the Voting Rights Act, perhaps the most significant piece of civil rights legislation, later that year.

SNCC may have been the most effective civil rights organization. That this group was organized and led by women and young people  must at the very least force us to examine long held views on and perceptions of leadership.

When my children say that I am not listening to them, they really mean that I will not let do something that they want to do. So when I know exactly what to think when I hear  some politician or pundit  say that the president needs to “show leadership” on the budget.

The opposition wants the president to abandon his beliefs and adopt theirs. The Republicans believe they are right, I get that. Their positions might be correct, but presidential leadership as they define it sounds self-serving.

Leadership requires the president to lay out his vision. He must then seek to build a consensus around that vision while also engaging those who hold a different vision. A leader strives to find common ground with those holding opposing views while remaining as true as possible to his originally articulated principles.

That is called compromise. Confident and competent leaders do not fear compromise. Only in some Orwellian world is inflexibility equated with virtue. Yet Congressional leaders of all stripes retreat to the comfort food of their poll-tested talking points while citizen needs go unaddressed.

Take the budget impasse. Republican resist the president’s call for new revenue. Democrats say the the elections show voters agree with them that the entitlements Medicare and Social Security must not be cut. The economic damaged caused by the sequester proves that the child-like inflexibility of our leaders places the nation on a path to stagnation.

I have reached the “things just ain’t what they used to be stage of life.” Why did Hostess go out of busniess? It’s because the Twinkies were moister and the creamy filling creamier back in my day.  What  have e-mail, twitter and texting  done to humanity’s ability to communicate in sentences – OMG:(

And the music. Don’t get me started on the music. Well please allow me to talk about the  music. Nothing marks people as being of a certain age like complaining about the quality of today’s music.

They don’t make ’em like the used to

Much of this is opinion based largely on the fact that musical tastes have changed. The mores expressed in the lyrical content of songs and the technology used to make songs have all changed in ways that ensure that the tunes embraced by a younger generation of listeners will be rejected by old folks.It’s always been that way.  The establishment originally reviled jazz, the blues, country, rock, R&B and rap.. Those genres now occupy honored spots in America’s musical canon.

A mother’s intuition

Mom’s today say their kids music is too loud and sounds alike. Mom has been validated scientists who  empirically proved this to be the case  If you believed that multi-national record labels and radio conglomerates are squeezing playlists to favor certain mainstream artists while locking out indie and local bands, the proof is out there.

The music was better back in the day crowd can find numbers, data and science to back them up. Now, what will they do with said evidence? Well, many music listeners have voted with their dollars. Music sales increased in 2012 after years of decline. Those increased music sales took place outside of the United States and a lot of music buyers were purchasing the oldies.

Oldies getting old

Now, I like my old Earth, Wind & Fire as much as the next guy, but going the nostalgia route gets kind of – well – old. There is something inspirational and revelatory about discovering a new artist with a sound that can send you back and propel you forward. Those artists weren’t easy to find in the past, but it’s become a whole lot easier with the help of the internet.

The technology has inspired a group of entrepanuers to lead an underground musical revolution. These people combine a of deep love for a musical genre and the time, resources and moxie to      create Internet radio stations, music blogs, review sites that all serve the purpose of bringing quality original music to fans.

The accidental leaders

This has especially true for R&B/soul music. While fans and critics alike lament the state of music released by the major labels and heard on the radio, a crop of digital leaders have stepped up to serve as aggregators and facilitators – digging up news about indie soul artists and educating hard core R&B and soul fans about the latest releases from indie and alternative soul stars (and the rare mainstream singer or group that strives for artistry).

I’ve had the pleasure of working for and with one of those leaders since 2007 when I joined the staff of the on-line music review site Chris Rizik, the founder of the site, assumed his leadership role in an accidental sort of way. He envisioned Soultracks as a site would provide updates about the singers and bands that we listened to back in the day.

It turned out that emerging R&B artists who had been squeezed out by the labels and radio were desperate to reach a broader audience. Rizik’s mailbox soon filled with CDs from these artists.  He played the music, liked what he heard and soon the site added reviews of emerging artists to the site’s mission.

Making a difference

I don’t know if Rizik or the men and women who started soul music sites such as Soul Patrol or Neo-Soul Cafe view themselves as leaders. Most of them just responded to what they correctly perceived as a neglected market. The presence of their web sites changed they way that I think about this thing called R&B music. I used to be one of those people who complained that nobody made good R&B music anymore. Thanks to the efforts of these leaders, I no longer sing that sad tune.

Change is often a slow process. It moves as such a glacial pace that it’s easy to assume that nothing is happening. You turn on the local R&B station and hear the same 10 songs played 10 times every day and want to throw up your hands. But then you turn on the radio and hear a Gregory Porter concert on NPR and you consult the local TV listings and realize that Jose James appeared on “The Tonight Show” and spirits rise. Why? Because sites such as Soultracks played a role in getting these artists much deserved shine.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman spoke to NPR’s Neal Conan  about President Obama’s likely decision to disappoint environmentalists by approving the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Obama is not the anti-business socialist portrayed by his opponents. He’s been a mainstream politician on economic issues such as Keystone, and executive power issues like the use of drones. He’s going weigh the competing claims, balance  the scientific, environmental and economic issues and make a decision.

That decision will be an exercise in realpolitik that will make the oil companies that worked hard to defeat Obama and  the unions who worked equally hard to seal the president’s reelection very happy.

Some  unrelated factors  tilt the scales in favor of Obama approving Keystone. The fragile economy  alternates between gaining momentum and stalling out as this weeks jobless claims and durable goods numbers show.  Obama would like to build on the momentum and a few thousand construction jobs won’t hurt .

Obama is also looking at his approval numbers. He’s lost the post election bounce due to the scrum with the Republicans over the sequester, the budget and the debt limit. Maybe Obama figures that approving the pipeline will prove that his charm offensive is real.

Once he approves the pipeline, Obama knows that he must make tangible moves to appease his bitterly disappointed environmental supporters. This was the point of Friedman’s March 10 column in the Times and his discussion with Conan.

Friedman wants Obama to reject the proposal. However, his column and NPR appearance made clear that the writer is already looking ahead to future fights on the green front. Friedman called on the environmental lobby to do the same. Friedman knows that once Obama approves Keystone XL, the president will have to show  that the soaring rhetoric he used during the inaguration was more than a device to send progressive hearts aflutter. Friedman wants the green lobby to stifle their rage and pressure the president to do something substantive that will “discourage the use of carbon-intensive fuels in favor of low-carbon energy.” Friedman appeared to back a carbon tax on NPR.

That kind of flexibility will require a different kind of leadership from the green lobby. These leaders will have to realize the power they have and abandon the talk of betrayal and victimhood that comes so easy to the left. They will need to play the inside game that they’ve earned the right to play after the election. However, they are loathe to play it because that’s what those other guys do.

Ultimately, the way that environmental leaders respond to Keystone confronts them with the same dilemma faced by Democrats in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Do they want to be right, or do they want to win.