Tears For The Tar Baby

By Ray Schultz

Jack Johnson, newly pardoned by President Trump, had one of the hardest heads ever pounded on by the leather boxing glove. Stylish, arrogant, successful and persecuted, he was, like Muhammad Ali in the 1960s, revered by many for his attitude and skills. But if Johnson was typical of black aspiration in the ring, he was never typical of actual black gain. He was healthy and still trading on his name when killed in an auto crash in 1948, unlike Sam Langford, who died blind, broke and forgotten, except by true aficionados.

Johnson may have been run out of the country and jailed by the white establishment, but he never sank to the misery experienced by his black contemporaries who fought each other for peanuts and were denied the chance to challenge for the world title.

This may be a good time to reflect on the history of black fighters in the heavyweight class.

The first men ever to fight for sport and profit in America were black freemen—Tom Molineaux and Bill Richmond, “The Black Terror.” They practiced their brutal art in the early years of the 19th century, and were close friends, according to the historians. Molineaux became the first American ever to fight for a championship—the heavyweight title—when he met Jim Cribb in London in 1810 and lost by a very tight margin—so close, in fact, that a rematch was held a year later at Thistoleton Gap in the County of Rutland, and Londoner Pierce Egan, inspired by what he had seen, started the first publication ever devoted exclusively to boxing, Boxiana.

Boxing was illegal in those days, and matches were conducted on the sly, at hidden rendezvous, much the same as cock-fighting today. In his book, “The Sweet Science,” A.J. Liebling describes a picture of the second Molineaux-Cribb bout that had appeared in Boxiana. The scene was typical of boxing matches up into the twentieth century.

“In the foreground of the picture there is a whore sitting on her gentleman’s shoulders the better to see the fight, while a pickpocket lifts the gentleman’s reader (watch). Cribb has just hit Molineaux the floorer and Molineaux is falling, as he has continued to do for a hundred and forty-five years since.”

But Liebling adds that “the detail I recall first when I think of the picture is the face of Bill Richmond, also an American Negro, as he sees his man go. He is following Molineaux down with his eyes, bending as the challenger falls, and his face is desolate.”

Egan paid heed to Molineaux by writing: “The hardiest frame could not resist the blows of the Champion; and it is astonishing the Moor stood them for so long.”

It is equally astonishing that boxing stood its illegality for so long—right up to the time of Jack Johnson. If it was difficult for a white man to get along in the sport, it was ten times as difficult for a black man. Talented black fighters could only hope to scrape out living in the ring—nothing more.

John L. Sullivan barred black opponents while champion, saying, “I will never fight a black man.” Sullivan’s leading contender was just such a black man, Peter Jackson, who was finally held to a draw in 61 rounds by Gentleman Jim Corbett after several years of futile waiting. Guess who got the title shot? After losing to Corbett himself for the title, Sullivan is said to have remarked, “Thank God I lost to an American.”

Black fighters of the lower weight classes were never quite that unfortunate, although they came close. The most untalented heavyweight king is always a shade above the middle and welterweight champions in charisma and respect—the title is like a lightning rod. Thus, several lighter black men—Joe Gans, George Dixon, Joe Walcott, Tiger Flowers, Battling Siki—were able to become champion of their divisions during times when a black heavyweight king was unthinkable to the white American public.

Conditions were at their worst, if anything, during Johnson’s unlikely reign. The leading black contenders—Sam McVey, Joe Janette and Sam Langford—were forced to fight each other sometimes as many as 20 or 25 times in every tank town along the pike. The white contenders avoided them if they could, and even Johnson, as champ, refused to fight them. He did face a black contender—Jim Johnson—during his exile in Europe: they fought to a draw in Paris. But the bout lost money. It was the first time two black men every met in a heavyweight title fight, and the last for many a long day.

Sam Langford, the Boston Tar Baby, was typical of the time. He was a slippery boxer with a good punch, and murderous infighting skills. Born in Nova Scotia in 1880, he began boxing in 1902 as a featherweight. Growing up the weight scale, he fought almost every leading boxer of his time: Joe Gans, Joe Walcott, Jack Blackburn (who later trained Joe Louis), Stanley Ketchel, defeating many of them. He beat most of the white hopes of the time: Jim Barry, Jim Flynn, Tony Ross and Sandy Ferguson, and lost a close fight to Johnson who refused to meet him again for the title or otherwise.

As a result, Langford with his deadly skills was forced to go on tour of the sticks, fighting his fellow blacks. He fought Joe Jeanette 14 times, McVey 14 times, and Harry Wills 23 times. He took many a beating, and dished many out. Towards the end of his career he went blind from cataracts, and managed to stay alive in the ring by holding on to his opponents and punching in their direction in the clinch. He retired in 1924, with a record of 151 pro fights, 39 decision wins, 99 knockouts and only 19 decision losses and 4 knockout losses, the remainder being draws and no-decisions. When elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, he was living in cellar in Boston. They took up a benefit for him, but he died a year later.

Langford, like Johnson, was hated and feared by a generation of whites. After he fought Gunboat Smith in Boston , the Boston Globe cartoonist wrote some very racist captions for drawings of the fight: “The Tar Baby’s grin, which rapidly vanished,” for flashing white teeth, and “The smoke at times made if difficult to see the Tar Baby,” for a picture of dense smoke and the vague shadow of a human form.

Johnson, of course, didn’t fare any better in the press. One cartoon of the era showed a group of white hopes running away from a black man (looking very much like Johnson) with a spear, vowing never to fight “that coke,” or “that smoke.”

Even Damon Runyon was guilty of racism when commenting on Johnson’s loss to Jess Willard in Havana in 1915, Had Johnson cut a deal with U.S. authorities to throw the fight and be readmitted to the States after his fled to Europe to avoid being jailed on a Mann Act conviction? Runyon wrote that “the case was in the hands of the feds who were not making deals with the likes of Johnson.”

Jack Dempsey, in his autobiography, admitted that he was frightened of Sam Langford and refused to fight him on the way up. Dempsey, however, is better known for his failure to meet another African-American fighter, Harry Wills, who was a leading contender during Dempsey’s championship reign. Wills was entitled to the shot, and at one point had even signed a contract with Dempsey for the bout. Somewhere along the line, Dempsey’s people pulled out, and in Dempsey’s own words, Harry Wills died without ever knowing how he would do in a title fight.

It is unclear today who deserves blame, but Dempsey’s promoter Tex Rickard could share some of it. Rickard had promoted the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries match in Nevada in 1910, when Jeffries was brought out of retirement to re-establish the “fistic supremacy of the white race,” and was beaten to a pulp. The match caused repercussions that were still felt up to and after Dempsey’s time. It wasn’t until 1937 that another black fighter received a shot at the heavy title, and only after he had carefully instructed about how behave. He was Joe Louis.

Black heavyweight kings have been predominant since then. But they owe a debt to the McVeys and Langfords, and others who went down unsung.

Doggone It: More Bullying By United Airlines

By Ray Schultz

In yet another sickening case of airline brutality, two travelers were forced to put their dog—a sort-nosed French bulldog who probably couldn’t breathe all that well—into a closed overhead bin, where the frightened puppy barked for two hours then died

United should be sued for millions, and the flight attendant who performed that stunt should be fired.

This is the same airline on which officers dragged a passenger off because he refused to surrender a seat he had paid for, and almost beat him to a pulp.

Now one may wonder: Why did the family with the dog comply with this demand? Personally, I would have said, “Land the plane. Arrest me. You’re not touching my dog.”

Based on what I’ve seen in TV news reports, this was a case of bullying of people who seemed vulnerable. Let’s not blame the victims.

It is, of course, only one episode. No matter how many airline miles people wrack up, the service is terrible on planes, the seats are cramped and the help is often rude.

Yeah, I know, drunken passengers sometimes cause disturbances and physically attack flight attendants.

But most of us don’t—we quietly endure the torture. And most of our dogs don’t nip. Yet we stand to get arrested for terrorism if we even complain that the coffee is cold.

No wonder some of us would rather take Amtrak when we can.

I’m tired of these blogs in which flight attendants list the things you should never ask them.

Rubbish, I’ll ask them anything I want, and it’s their problem if it aggravates them. It’s their job to serve passengers. To paraphrase a character in Godfather II, it’s the business they chose.

 

Black Mail: How the Nazis Used Direct Mail In America

By Ray Schultz

To the untutored, 1940 probably seemed like just another year ending in a zero. The movies Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were playing around the country. On the radio, one heard Frank Sinatra singing with the Tommy Dorsey band. But some people were not consoled by such entertainment. The Germans were overrunning Europe, the Jews were in peril. And at home, there was a struggle between isolationists like Charles A. Lindbergh, whose comments were tinged with anti-Semitism, and those who felt the U.S. had to help defeat Hitler.

Henry Hoke was in the latter category. The 46 year-old Baltimore native and Wharton graduate was a direct mail expert. He had run the industry’s trade group, The Direct Mail Advertising Association, and he published a magazine called The Reporter of Direct Mail Advertising. He was ever on the alert for frauds who abused the medium. And he felt he had uncovered just such a group.

The Nazis.

Yes, the Germans were using the U.S. mails to spread propaganda, and Hoke, whose son Pete had isolationist circulars shoved under his door at Wharton, took it on himself to expose them. As he wrote later, in a book titled Black Mail, “the German government, through mail issued by specified agencies to selected lists, was attempting to divide the country so that the United States would be helplessly unprepared for future military attack.”

Could he cite examples? Sure. For one, “the German Library of Information guided by Matthias F. Schmitz (assisted by George Sylvester Viereck), issued about 90,000 copies of a semi-weekly, well printed and written Facts in Review to ministers, school teachers, editors of college papers, legislators, publishers,” Hoke wrote in May 1940 in his magazine. “Purpose: to sell the National Socialist ideology and to prevent preparedness against attack.”

Then he added that “the German Railroads Information Office, guided by Ernest Schmitz, issued about 40,000 weekly mimeographed bulletins to hotel mangers, travel agencies, stock brokers, bankers and ‘small business men,’” to “convince Americans that the Nazi system of doing business was best.”

Hoke wasn’t done: “The American Fellowship Forum, guided by Friedrich E. Auhagen, assisted by George Sylvester Viereck, Lawrence Dennis, and others, issued pamphlets or bulletins to a ‘cultural class,’—educators, civic leaders, authors and a selected list of persons who might be sold the idea that the German mind was filled with nothing but the milk of human kindness for all humanity.”

It took courage to write that, even for an American tucked safely at home in Garden City, Long Island. E. Schmitz, from the German Railroads Information Office, wrote to demand that Hoke retract these “slanders,” and assured him that if he did, “a waiver will be given, releasing you and your publication from further claim.” Hoke noted that the letter “had been sent to my home…not to my office.” Were the Germans trying to intimidate him?

If they were, it didn’t work. Instead, Hoke published his exchange with Schmitz in a special mailing—“I refuse to be intimidated by you or by any German controlled organization. I refuse to have my family intimidated,” he wrote. And he got more outspoken as he realized the scope of the German operation.

“For the first time, it was possible to show how the Nazis had built a large mailing list (estimated at 250,000) of German Americans with relatives in Germany…how Japanese boats brought hulls full of printed material from Hamburg, Munich, Berlin…how these pieces were delivered under International Postal Union Treaties free of charge by the United States. (Under International Postal Treat, the country of origin retains the postage collected,” he wrote in Black Mail. “The country of delivery delivers free. A wash-out transaction to avoid bookkeeping).”

But the Germans were only part of it. Hoke found that Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, the Montana Democrat who had broken with Roosevelt over his court-packing plan, was sending out isolationist mail under his free Congressional frank. Analyzing the addressing on the envelopes, Hoke traced the pieces to a German group: the Steuben Society, Also sending seemingly pro-Hitler mail, for free, was Rep. Hamilton Fish (R-NY), who in 1938 had met with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in Europe, and reportedly said that Germany’s demands in Poland were “just,” according to Hoke.

Hoke, who was not Jewish, deplored the anti-Semitism expressed by many isolationists. “On April 25, 1941, in Omaha, Nebraska, Charles B Hudson, violently anti-Semitic publisher, admitted to reporters that he had distributed isolationist speeches under the Congress free mailing franks of Senators Worth Clark of Idaho, Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri and Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, and Representatives Oliver of Maine and Bolton of Ohio,” he reported.

Hoke wrote to Wheeler: “Unaddressed franked mail under your signature and under that of former Representative Jacob Thorkelson of Montana, has been distributed by your violent adherent Donald Shea at his anti-Semitic meetings and by Nazi-loving, Jew-baiting Joe McWilliams at Christian Front meetings. Recipients were instructed to address the franked envelopes and dump them into the nearest postal box, without payment of postage.”

Of course, isolationists had a right to circulate their views, although not under franked mail, Hoke argued. Wheeler fought back. “I am not seriously concerned about Mr. Hoke’s misrepresentations,” he wrote in a letter. “In the first place, Mr. Hoke is interested in direct mail advertising, as he himself says, and is opposed to the use of the franking privilege on general principles.”

Sen. Wheeler then claimed that “Mr. Hoke makes no reference to the fact that those in Government who apparently favor our intervention in foreign war sent out under various Congressional franks some 2,00,000 pieces of mail all over the United States, much of it distributed by the pro-interventionist committees and organizations.”

Wheeler also falsely wrote that Hoke was employed by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith, as if that discredited him. Meanwhile, Hoke reported that the supposedly good name of the Order of the Purple Heart was being used as a cover in the scheme.

Events moved quickly. Franklin Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term in November 1940. On June 2, 1941, Hoke wrote, “a friend beside a news ticker called me on the ‘phone to beat the headlines…’Henry, you ought to be glad to know,’ he said, ‘the President of the United States has just issued an executive order closing the German Railroads…the German Library of Information…and the German Consulates.’”

Hoke was pleased, although this crusade had practically wrecked his business. But he kept after the Nazi sympathizers, using the techniques of his trade to undo them. For instance, friends wrote flattering letters to the appeasers, using dummy names, and soon received isolationist letters addressed to those names, fueling his investigative reporting. And more was to follow.

“We learned from a girl who worked in a locked and guarded room on the top floor of the Ford Building at N. 1710 Broadway in New York City that Ford Motor Car Company employees were compiling a master list of appeasers, anti-Semites, pro-Nazis and Fascists from fan mail addressed to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, to former Senator Rush Holt and to Representative Hamilton Fish,” Hoke wrote.

He added that “the lists, when compiled, were delivered to Bessie Feagin, circulation manager of Scribner’s Commentator. That explained how some of the dummy names used in writing to radio orators eventually got on the list of the American First Committee and Scribner’s Commentator. But why the Ford organization? But why…a lot of things?”

Feagin was eventually hauled before a grand jury, as were many others, including Hamilton Fish. “No one knows what Hamilton Fish told the Grand Jury on December 5, 1941,” Hoke said. “Someone was pulling every possible string to have the case buried.”

Two days passed. Then: “Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, just as our little family sat down to dinner…the flash we feared came over the radio…Pearl Harbor!”

Myth has it that the country pulled together at that moment, but Hoke knew better. Isolationists blamed Roosevelt for the war, inferring that Japan was in its rights to attack. “Remember…these were statements made by Americans on the Sunday night of December 7, 1941…the blackest day in American history,” Hoke wrote. “Made by the same Americans who for months had been mimicking and distributing the printed propaganda of the enemy.”

And they continued. “By the fall of 1943…the volume of black mail had grown to alarming proportions and was increasing rapidly,” Hoke charged. “The average citizen, when told about it still said, “I don’t believe it.” He didn’t see many of the Hate Sheets of the vermin press—or he may have seen only one or two which he passed off as “crack-pot.’” Hoke cited several anti-Semitic publications, like The Defender, Destiny and The Mothers of Sons Forum Bulletin.

There were victories along the way: Multiple indictments for sedition and other crimes. Some resulted in convictions, including that of George Hill, secretary to Hamilton Fish. Hill was “that certain man,” sought by Hoke, who ran the massive propaganda operation. “He was convicted of perjury—but the evidence proved him guilty of conspiracy with Viereck and Dennet to use the Government Printing Office and the Congressional franking privilege for the dissemination of Nazi and Fascist propaganda,” Hoke wrote.

Then there was the case of George Sylvester Viereck, who had failed to register as a foreign agent. Hoke recorded the scene:

“11:30 P.M. Judge Lawes appears and the courtroom is filled with an air of dignity…and tension. The jury walks in a semi-circle at the side of the bench. Viereck stands before the jury and glares. The clerk reads each count and the foreman answers—‘Guilty’…six times. Vierecks lawyer asks that the jury be polled. Viereck glares at each juror as the question is put six times, an the answer six times is ‘Guilty.’ Seventy-to times Viereck hears his ‘fellow citizens’ say the word ‘Guilty.’ The big marshal standing behind George Sylvester Viereck takes out his handcuffs and the Nazi agent goes out through the back door. Court adjourned.”

Henry Hoke lived until 1970. His son Pete took over the magazine, and changed its name to Direct Marketing. Pete’s son Hank is now in charge of the Hoke operation. To paraphrase James Agee, let us now praise Henry Hoke for his selfless campaign. Why did he do it? “Because some people, some place…are running a campaign to destroy Democracy,” he wrote, concluding Black Mail. “Our destiny is better than that. Our boys and girls deserve a better future. Fight against this black mail. If we do not…we’ll not know the sweet of Freedom until we have lost it.”

Scoundrels, Demagogues and Boobs

By Ray Schultz

You want politically incorrect? Try H.L. Mencken. I turned to the Sage of Baltimore to get perspective on the election, and he made me laugh, as always. So there is reason to live. Granted, things have changed in this country since his time, but it all sounds strangely familiar. What were Mencken’s politics? He hated everyone. Here was the man who called the New Deal “a milch cow with 125 million teats.” Yet the proud libertarian also despised fundamentalist Christians. If your group or state is skewered here, I can only repeat what a Republican told a Liberal the other day: “Toughen up.”

Nothing could have been further from the intent of Washington, Hamilton and even Jefferson than that the official doctrines of the nation in the year 1922, should be identical with the nonsense heard in the Chautauqua, from the evangelical pulpit, and on the stump. But Jackson and his merry men broke through the barbed wires thus so carefully strung, and ever since 1825 vox poluli has been the true voice of the nation. Today there is no longer any question of statesmanship, in any real sense, in our politics. The only way to success in American public life lies in flattering and kowtowing to the mob. A candidate for office, even the highest, must either adopt its current manias en bloc, or convince it hypocritically that he has done so, while cherishing reservations in petto. The result is that only two sorts of men stand any chance whatever of getting into actual control of affairs—first, glorified mob-men who genuinely believe what the mob believes, and secondly, shrewd fellows who are willing to make any sacrifice of conviction and self-respect in order to hold their jobs. One finds perfect examples of the first class in Jackson and (William Jennings) Bryan. One finds hundreds of specimens of the second among the politicians who got themselves so affectingly converted to Prohibition, and who voted and blubbered for it with flasks in their pockets.” (On Being An American, 1922)

***

On the steppes, Methodism has got itself all the estate and dignity of a state religion; it becomes a criminal offense to teach any doctrine in contempt of it. No civilized man, to be sure, is yet actually in jail for the crime; civilized men simply keep out of such bleak parking spaces for human Fords, as they keep out of Congress and Franz Josef Land. But the long arm of the Wesleyan revelation now begins to stretch forth toward Nineveh. The mountebank, Bryan, after years of preying upon the rustics on the promise that he would show them how to loot the cities, now reverses his collar and proposes to lead them in a jehad against what remains of American intelligence, already beleaguered in a few walled towns.

Not much gift for Vision is needed to imagine the main outlines of the ensuing Kultur. The city man, as now, will bear nine-tenths of the tax burden; the rural total immersionist will make all the laws. With Genesis firmly lodged in the Testament of the Fathers he will be ten times as potent as he is now and a hundred times as assiduous. No constitutional impediment will remain to cripple his moral fancy. The Wesleyan code of Kansas and Mississippi, Vermont and Minnesota will be forced upon all of us by the full military and naval might of the United States. Civilization will gradually become felonious everywhere in the Republic, as it already is in Arkansas. (The Husbandman, 1931)

***

Virginians, even the worst of them, show the effects of a great tradition. They hold themselves above other Southerners, and with sound pretension. If one turns to such a commonwealth as Georgia, the picture becomes far darker. There the liberated lower orders of whites have borrowed the worst commercial bounderism of the Yankee and superimposed it upon a culture that, at bottom, is but little removed from savagery. Georgia is at once the home of the cotton-mill sweater, of the Methodist parson turned Savonarola and of the lynching bee. A self-respecting European, going there to live, would not only find intellectual stimulation utterly lacking, he would actually feel a certain insecurity, as if the scene were the Balkans or the China Coast. (The Sahara of the Bozart, 1917).

***

Most of the rewards of the Presidency, in these days, have come to be very trashy. The President continues, of course, to be an eminent man, but only in the sense that Jack Dempsey, Lindbergh, Babe Ruth and Henry Ford have been eminent men.

The honors that are heaped upon a President are seldom of a kind to impress and content a civilized man. People send him turkeys, opossums, pieces of wood from the Constitution, goldfish, carved peach kernels, models of the state capitols of Wyoming and Arkansas, and pressed flowers from the Holy Land. Once a year some hunter in Montana or Idaho sends him 20 bears of bear-steak, usually collect. It arrives in a high state, and has to be fed to the White House dog. (The Imperial Purple, 1931)

***

At each election we vote in a new set of politicians, insanely assuming that they are better than the set turned out. And at each election we are, as they say in the Motherland, done in.

Of late the fraud has become so gross that the plain people begin to show a great restlessness under it. Like animals in a cage, they trot from one corner to another, endlessly seeking a way out. If the Democrats win one year, it is a pretty sure sign that they will lose the next year. State after state becomes doubtful, pivotal, skittish, even the solid South begins to break. (The Politician, 1924)

***

(The average American’s) docility and pusillanimity may be overestimated, and sometimes I think that they are overestimated by his present masters. They assume that there is absolutely no limit to his capacity for being put on and knocked about—that he will submit to any invasion of his freedom and dignity, however outrageous, so long as it is depicted in melodious terms. He permitted the late war to be “sold” to him by the methods of the grind-shop auctioneer. He submitted to conscription without any of the resistance shown by his brother democrats of Canada and Australia. He got no further than academic protests against the brutal usage he had to face in the army. He came home and found Prohibition foisted on him, and contented himself with a few feeble objurgations. He is a pliant slave of capitalism, and ever ready to help put down fellow-slaves who venture to revolt. But this very weakness, this very credulity and poverty of spirit, on some easily conceivable tomorrow, may convert him into a rebel of a peculiarly insane kind, and so beset the Republic from within with difficulties quite as formidable as those which threaten to afflict it from without.

What Mr. James N. Wood calls the corsair of democracy–that is, the professional mob-master, the merchant of delusions, the pumper-up of popular fears and rages–is still content to work for capitalism, and capitalism knows how to reward him to his taste. He is the eloquent statesman, the patriotic editor, the fount of inspiration, the prancing milch-cow of optimism. He becomes public leader, Governor, Senator, President. He is Billy Sunday, Cyrus K. Curtis, Dr. Frank Crane, Charles H. Hughes, Taft, Wilson, Cal Coolidge, General Wood, Harding. His, perhaps, is the best of trades under democracy–but it has its temptations! Let us try to picture a master corsair, thoroughly adept at pulling the mob nose, who suddenly bethought himself of that Pepin the Short who found himself mayor of the palace and made himself King of the Franks. There were lightnings along that horizon in the days of Roosevelt; there were thunder growls when Bryan emerged from the Nebraska steppes. One some great day of fate, as yet unrevealed by the gods, such a professor of the central democratic science may throw off his employers and set up a business for himself. When that day comes there will be plenty of excuse for black type on the front pages of the newspapers. (On Being an American, 1922).