It’s parade time again in New Orleans. Later today it’s the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade and, more importantly, my friends Greg and Christy’s annual party. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I have been known to overindulge even though I have no Irish blood whatsoever. I am, however, quite proficient at blarney and bullshit. Dr. A is 1/4th Irish, so that will have to do.
One of the oddities of this parade is that they throw vegetables: carrots, cabbages, and onions. Christy insists that we catch enough to go with the corned beef brisket that we have for supper. It’s a grand time even if it looks nothing like the Cruikshank image above, except for the chap drinking from the bottle. It’s almost worthy of a John Ford movie only without the spanking. We save that for Krewe du Vieux:
Note: I wrote this post before a big ass storm was due to arrive and dump buckets of rain on us. There’s a possibility that the parade will be cancelled and, even worse, I might lose power and internet access. Finishing the week’s post on Thursday seemed like the sensible thing to do even though I usually direct my feet to the silly side of the street.
Non-Breaking News: It’s Friday morning and we still haven’t lost power, but more rain is a comin’. We’ve even resorted to securing some store-bought as opposed to parade-caught cabbages. There’s a first time for everything. Back to the Saturday post:
The Gret Stet’s budget process continues to slog along as legislative GOPers blame the newly elected Democratic Governor for all our woes. Where have we seen this movie before? It is, alas, a lege full of pols that David Vitter helped elect so it’s only surprising as opposed to shocking. At least the Tigers will play football this fall. Hard times call for bread and circuses, after all. Where is Tiberius when you need him?
I try not to re-use artists when selecting theme songs for this feature. I’ve already used Saint Dominic’s Preview but it’s hard to beat Irish Heartbeat by Van the Man. It was the title track of his 1988 collaboration with the Chieftains and that’s where we begin this particular beguine:
Here’s a 2015 version with Mark Knopfler along for the ride:
Back in the day, Dr. A had a friend who was convinced that Knopfler’s band name was, in fact, his name. Our attempts to convince her otherwise were futile. Since she had a rather thick Puerto Rican accent, we started calling him Mr. Dire Estraits. I am not making this up and if I were, I wouldn’t tell you until *after* the break.
That was a true story. The names have been changed to protect nobody in particular.
We begin with a musical selection followed by a somber historical section:
That was John Boutte’s moving version of Neil Young’s Southern Man a song that evokes images of the Ku Klux Klan:
K Troop: The story of the eradication of the original Ku Klux Klan is a fabulous piece by Matthew Pearl at Slate describing the end of what could be called the first wave of the Klan. (The second wave occurred after the release of The Birth of a Nation, and the third wave commenced after Brown v. Board of Education.) The focus of Pearl’s piece is on the Klan’s victims and the federal soldiers who clamped down on them, not on the pernicious peckerwoods themselves. Fuck them.
Here’s a Pearl of a description of Major Lewis Merrill, the officer sent by President Grant to kick the Klan’s ass in South Carolina:
Maj. Merrill, having drawn the assignment, had to confess he had doubts about the stories he’d heard of Ku Klux Klan dominance in South Carolina. “Let me put it stronger even than that,” Merrill said when recalling his thoughts upon receiving his next post while stationed in Kansas. “I was absolutely incredulous.” His superior officer warned him that the reality of the Klan’s terrorism was worse than rumors could convey. Whatever else he thought he might be up against, the 36-year-old Maj. Merrill could never imagine how this mission would reshape his life and legacy.
The West Point–trained Merrill, who attracted strong acolytes and stronger enemies, had been promoted while in the Union Army until he was commanding his own unit. His cavalry regiment in the Civil War, taking on the identity of its headstrong leader, became known simply as “Merrill’s horse.” Raised in Pennsylvania in a family filled with lawyers, including his Dartmouth-educated father, Merrill felt many of that profession’s skills of methodical analysis and procedure had been passed down to him, and he showed them off as a military inspector general and judge advocate in courts-martial. He had an imposing build and youthful face. A New-York Tribunereporter mused that he looked like a German professor, probably from the air of blunt intensity that can be detected in surviving photographs of him. Merrill ranked as a top officer in the 7th Cavalry by the time he headed for South Carolina.
I learned a lot from Pearl’s article and it reinforced my belief that Grant is an unfairly maligned Oval One. The focus of past historians was on corruption (it did exist, it’s America) as opposed to the way the Grant administration handled Reconstruction related issues. Grant’s reputation has been trending up in recent years and I’m glad. Many of those earlier historians were Lost Cause Southerners who hated the General who fed them a can of whoop-ass.
We move on to another Slate article about the Klan that was written in the wake of the Trump-Duke kerfuffle:
What Is The Contemporary Klan? That rhetorical question was posed by Leon Neyfahk. It turns out that they’re a hybrid between a koffee klatch and a somewhat indolent terrorist group:
What I learned is that “the KKK” no longer really exists, at least not as the monolithic group of vigilantes it once was. Today, it’s a collection of 30 or so independent groups made up of small local chapters that embrace the KKK “brand” and some of its traditions as a means of appearing more formidable than they are. The groups have imposing names like the “International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” and “Imperial Klans of America Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” But while the KKK once stood as a hierarchical organization with terrifying goals and the means to achieve them, its descendants can best be described as a very loosely affiliated network of small groups that are all but irrelevant as political entities and marginal even within the white supremacist movement.
I used the word indolent because today’s Klan is not very active but one should always watch groups like this. It appears that other hate groups have taken their place. Even David Duke has gone back to his Neo-Nazi roots and hung his robe and hood in a particularly nasty closet somewhere. Duke definitely hates blacks and hispanics but his fiercest hate is reserved for Jews. It’s one reason he’s spent so much time in the former Soviet Union in the last decade.
As an antidote to the evil and bigotry of the Klan, let’s move on and talk about African-American film pioneer Oscar Micheaux who put a stamp on his profession:
Oscar, Oscar, Oscar: There’s no truth to the rumor that I named my cat after Oscars Micheaux or Madison. Actually, there’s no rumor but sometimes I get carried away. Time to carry on.
I’ve long admired film directors who were able to make something good with limited resources. Some thrived in the poorer corners of the Hollywood studio system. There were some pretty damn good films made on Poverty Row by directors like Ulmer, Lewis, and Karlson to name a few. Nobody did more with less than the African-American filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux.
Ashley Lewis discusses Micheaux and the work of some other pioneering black filmmakers in the Guardian. Here’s a sample:
Few films in the collection resonate more startlingly with current matters than Illinois-born Oscar Micheaux’s incident-packed drama Within Our Gates (1920), which is the earliest surviving film directed by an African American. Micheaux’s first film, The Homesteader, also 1919, is considered lost.
Like many Micheaux films (including 1939’s Birthright, which is also in the Pioneers collection), Within Our Gates broaches complex subjects including the importance of education, the bi-directional social impact of the Great Migration, religion and class. The film also addresses the realities of violent white supremacy. Its final act largely comprises an extended flashback during which we discover the terrible circumstances motivating its protagonist’s quest: the lynching of her parents by a white mob, an atrocity depicted with an unflinching brutality that’s shocking even by today’s standards.
I haven’t seen Within Our Gates but it sounds depressingly relevant to today’s world. Equally depressing is the loss of so many silent films because of their highly flammable nitrate film stock. It’s such a pity: silent films provide a window into a distant past and we can learn a lot from them. Additionally, the Keystone Kops were funny motherfuckers;
My late mother was a killer Bridge player. She was some level of Grandmaster. I’m not sure which. It’s kind of confusing to the uninitiated. She and my father had frequent Bridge parties after which they’d quarrel because my dad was a wild, undisciplined player and would try crazy stunts. It was entertainment for him but a passion for my mother. One thing neither of them would ever do was cheat. That leads me to a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the surprisingly cutthroat world of professional contract Bridge.
Dirty Hands is David Owen’s look at a recent cheating scandal in Bridgeworld. It turns out that such incidents are fairly commonplace. So much for my perception of Bridge as a genteel game. It’s what happens when there’s money involved, even though it’s pocket change compared to other games. Elaborate security measures have been adopted but it sounds like what is really required is an emphasis on ethics. Short-cuts and cheating have always been common among card players. The crooked gambler was a staple of the Western genre. But in Bridge? My mom would not be amused.
Documentary Of The Week: This week’s choice is one I somehow missed on the American Experience last year, Klansville:USA. It’s the story of how the Klan thrived in the comparatively liberal Southern state of North Carolina in the 1960’s. Sorry, Lex.
The good news is that this fine film is available on YouTube so here it is:
Some of the footage used in the film came from a 1965 CBS Special Report, Ku Klux Kan: The Invisible Empire. It was reported by Charles Kuralt of all people. It may be why he turned to feature reporting. It, too, is available on YouTube:
I give both films 3 stars, an Adrastos grade of B and a hefty Ebertian thumbs up.
Saturday Standards: Like Oscar Micheaux, Nat King Cole was a show business pioneer. It may be hard to imagine but the suave crooner was a controversial figure in the 1950’s because of his skin color. He was the first African-American performer to have his own network teevee show. It only lasted one season because advertisers were nervous about a Southern backlash.
Nat King Cole Sings The Blues is a 1962 LP that combines the blues with Nat’s sophisticated approach to music. You know it’s good when Nelson Riddle is involved:
That’s it for this week. I just confirmed that the parade is rolling. In its honor, I’m featuring a closing Bat-meme picture that includes everyone’s favorite Irish stereotype, Chief O’Hara; seen below with Commissioner Gordon before he became Gary Oldman: