The Declining Value of Art

What gives art value? That is, inherent value, not mere monetary value. Perhaps it is actually quite similar for artist and spectator. The artist may impart value on her work based upon how much joy and fulfillment the process of its creation gave her, how satisfied she is with the final product if it matched or came close to her vision, how much pleasure others experience when viewing (or listening to) it, or how much attention, respect, and fame (and wealth) is directed her way because of it. Likewise, the spectator may see value in the work because he knows, perceives, or assumes the joy and satisfaction it might give the artist, he’s interested in and enjoys experiencing it, or because he respects a successful, famous individual.

There are various forces that impart value, but a significant one must be effort required. This is, after all, what is meant by the ever-present “My kid could do that” muttered before canvases splattered with paint or adorned with a single monochrome square in art museums across the world — pieces sometimes worth huge sums. People see less value in a work of art that takes (on average between human beings) less effort, less skill. Likewise, most artists would likely be less crushed were a fire to consume a piece they’d spent a day to complete versus one they’d spent a year to complete. To most people, effort imparts value.

I’d be remiss, and haunted, if I didn’t mention here that this demonstrates how most people think in Marxian ways about value. (If you thought, dear reader, that in an article on art you’d find respite from socialist theory, you were wrong.) Marx wrote that “the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour” needed to create it (Value, Price, and Profit). Again, not mere monetary value. This doesn’t mean “the lazier a man, or the clumsier a man, the more valuable his commodity, because the greater the time of labour required for finishing the commodity.” Rather, Marx was speaking about the average labor needed to create something: “social average conditions of production, with a given social average intensity, and average skill of the labour employed.” Labor, effort, imparts value on all human creations, whether it’s art, whether it’s for sale, and so forth. Doesn’t it follow, then, that what takes less effort has less inherent value?

This train of thought — how the effort put into paintings, drawings, writings, photographs, sculptures, music, etc. affects their value — arose during an interesting conversation on how much respect should be awarded to each of these forms. Respect was based on effort-value. In other words, does a “good” photograph deserve the same respect as a “good” painting? Does a “great” piece of writing, like a book, deserve the same admiration — does it have the same value — as a “great” sculpture? One may feel at first that they shouldn’t be compared. But all forms have value because they require effort, and thus if we can determine how much effort, on average between human beings, is required for two compared art forms and then decide one takes more effort we will have also found a difference in value. (One need not worry about “great” being subjective, because we are only talking about how each individual personally views the value of different art forms; perceived effort will also be subjective, which is the whole point, as it determines one’s view on value.)

If it helps make this clearer, we might start with a comparison within a single form. Which takes more effort on average: to record a single or an album? Cartooning or hyperrealist drawing? Most people would say the latter finished products have more value because of the greater effort typically required (work may be a breeze for some hyperrealist artists, as easy as cartooning for cartoonists, but remember we are speaking of averages).

Now what about the average effort to create a “good” photograph versus, say, a “good” (let’s say realist) painting? It seems like it would certainly take more effort to make a good painting! The technology of photography always advances, making tasks easier and more accessible, and thus grows more widespread. After film yielded to digitalization and computerization, it became much easier to take a nice photograph — it’s easier to do and easier to do well. Exposure, shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, focus, white balance, metering, flash, and so on can now be manipulated faster and with greater ease, or automatically, requiring no effort at all. Recently it’s become possible to edit photographs after the fact, fixing and improving them. You just need a program and know how to use it. Because the form has never existed without technology, the average effort to create a great photograph has probably never rivaled the average effort to create a great painting, but the gap was smaller in the past. Today anyone with the right technology can produce a great photo; true, it requires know-how, but surely the journey from knowing nothing to mastery is shorter and easier than the same journey for realist painting. (Film — now digital video — production is a similar story.) Because the effort needed for the same result — a good photo — has declined over time, the value of the form overall has also decreased. (This does not mean some photographers aren’t more creative, skilled, or knowledgeable than others, nor that there doesn’t remain more value in the work of hardline traditionalists who refuse to use this or that new technology.) But painting — the technology of painting — hasn’t really changed much through the ages; it still requires about the same effort to produce the same quality work, therefore its value holds steady. If “painters” start having robots paint incredible works for them, or aid them, there would obviously be a reduction of value. No one is as impressed by robot paintings or machine-assisted paintings.

Music is facing a smaller-scale attack on the value of the form with digitally created instrumentals, autotune, and so forth. Perhaps the value of writing declined slightly as we shifted from penmanship to typewriting to computer-based writing (with backspace and spell-check!). It will decline again as voice transcription programs are perfected and grow in popularity.

Sculpting, painting, and drawing — the forms least infected by technology — still essentially require the same effort to do, and same effort to do well, as they have throughout human history. The tools and equipment have changed some, yes, but not nearly as much as those of other forms. Their value will remain the same as long as this state of affairs persists. If music, writing, film, and photography continually grow easier to do well, their value, by this metric, will decrease, slowed only by those who valiantly resist the technological changes. This does not mean a splatter painting automatically has more value than a beautiful photo — remember we’re each personally comparing the value of what we subjectively see as “good” paintings versus “good” photographs; you may not see a splatter painting as good. Rather, it may simply mean that what you see as a good painting takes more effort on average to create, and thus has more value, than what you see as a good photo. Perhaps also more than a good book, song, or video, depending on the size and scope of the projects being compared (it may surpass a good video but not a good film, or a good short book but not a good tome; up to you).

It could be that effort required is somewhat rule-based, too, rather than just technology-based. Music, writing, film, and photography rely on more rules. That’s probably why technology is encroaching quicker on such forms. In music, keys, pitches, quarter-notes, half-notes and so forth are rules. Build a program that knows and follows them and you don’t need human players or singers anymore at all. Writing has spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules. So spell-check and A.I. can help you or do it all for you. Film has frames per second, photography f-stops, and together a thousand other rules. Devices can handle them. Artists break the rules all the time, but that doesn’t mean their form doesn’t rely more heavily on them than other forms.

Sculpting marble or clay into something recognizable, adorning a canvas with life, or sketching a convincing face perhaps are not activities that rely as much on rules. This does not mean there are none; for instance there are drawing guidelines to make a face proportional and grids to help you transfer reality to the paper. Again, the rules may or may not be followed. And this does not mean an A.I. couldn’t do such activities, because it could. It’s just hard to define what rule you’d use to draw something so perfectly it looks like a photograph; but you know you have to hit certain notes to sing something perfectly. You have to be talented to do either — but maybe one has more foundational rules to get you there.

I’ve sometimes wondered if closing the “effort gap” or “talent gap” between novices and incredible artists is easier in some art forms than others. Meaning, is the gulf between an inexperienced writer and an incredible writer smaller than the gulf between an inexperienced painter and an incredible painter? What about the gap between a new photographer and masterful one compared to the gap between a new sculptor and a highly advanced one? On average, that is. I would suppose the art forms that in any given era take more effort would have the largest chasm to cross. So it would be harder to become a master painter than a master photographer. Perhaps harder, also, than becoming a master cinematographer, writer, singer, or even musician. (I think this view explains why I personally respect and admire the best works of sculpting, painting, and drawing more than the best works of other forms, though music is high up there too. And that’s coming from a writer.)

If so, perhaps rules have something to do with it. We know that practice makes perfect. Some are born with unique gifts, no question, but others go from zero to hero through practice. Might more rules make it easier? Do human beings learn better, faster, with those defined rules? If you stripped away the aforementioned technology of singing, music, and writing (it’s impossible to do this with photography and film), would the rules of the forms alone make these things easier to master than art forms with fewer rules? It’s interesting to consider.

How the Founding Fathers Protected Their Own Wealth and Power

Extremely wealthy landowners, merchants, and slave-owners held political power both long before and long after independence from Britain.[1] As we have already seen, many of the founding fathers battled to keep religious power out of government,[2] but they saw not the need for separation of State and business interests. Most of these wealthy men opposed democracy, and designed the Constitution to ensure the aristocracy would continue to rule society.

Historian Howard Zinn wrote, “The Continental Congress, which governed the colonies throughout the war, was dominated by rich men, linked together in faction and compacts by business and family connections”[3] and that the Constitution

illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law—all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity…

When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.[4]

The aristocrats made their desire for political power quite clear, in their pre- and post-Revolution repression of poor people’s revolts (Bacon’s Rebellion, Shay’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion) and democratic movements aimed at redistributing property or abolishing debts. (Shay’s Rebellion, an uprising against debts and taxes, took place at the time the new Constitution was being written, in 1787, and certainly influenced its formation; see Zinn, Truth Has a Power of Its Own.) Nathaniel Bacon said, “The poverty of the country is such that all the power and sway is got into the hands of the rich, who by extortious advantages, having the common people in their debt, have always curbed and oppressed them in all manner of ways.”[5] The rich also structured their new government in a very specific way. Most of them believed the wealthy, the “well-born,” deserved decision-making power, not the common man. Alexander Hamilton revealed the common sentiment of class hostility and prejudice against the poor when he wrote:

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well-born, the other the mass of the people… The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct permanent share in the government… Can a democratic assembly who annually revolve in the mass of the people be supposed steadily to pursue the common good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy…[6]

So only rich representatives could determine what was best for the common American people, not the common American people themselves. As Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin wrote, a “representative system, far from being a guarantee for the people, on the contrary, creates and safeguards the continued existence of a governmental aristocracy against the people.”[7] Many other founders echoed Hamilton, as is to be expected from those in the same socioeconomic stratum. John Jay, who helped write the Constitution and later served as the first Chief Justice of the United States, often said, “The people who own the country ought to govern it.”[8] James Madison argued senators should “come from, and represent, the wealth of the Nation.” He wrote the “turbulence and contention” of pure democracy (the people voting on public policy) threatened “the rights of property,” and sneered at politicians who supported giving all men “perfect equality in their political rights.”[9] He worried a growing population of laborers would “secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of [life’s] blessings.”[10] “The danger to the holders of property can not be disguised, if they be undefended against a majority without property,” dangers including “agrarian laws” and “leveling schemes” and “the cancelling or evading of debts.” It was important to “secure the rights of property agst. the danger from an equality & universality of suffrage, vesting compleat power over property in hands without a share in it.”[11]

He warned that in a democracy,

When the number of landowners shall be comparatively small…will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.[12]

In other words, if you give democratic decision-making power to the landless, to the poor, to the majority, they might come for the wealth of the opulent (“agrarian law” is explained further below). John Adams believed, writes David McCullough, that

inequalities of wealth, education, family position, and such differences were true of all people in all times. There was inevitably a “natural aristocracy among mankind,” those people of virtue and ability who were “the brightest ornaments and the glory” of a nation, “and may always be made the greatest blessings of society, if it be judiciously managed in the constitution.” These were the people who had the capacity to acquire great wealth and make use of political power…[13]

To his credit (not really), Adams believed these men should serve in the Senate but the executive branch should be protected against their interests.

These men wrote of the need to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority, but saw no threat in a minority of wealthy men withholding political and economic power from the majority. No great surprise, as they themselves were the rich, enlightened few. Though the Constitution and Bill of Rights granted unprecedented individual rights, the common citizen had little political power. Popular vote had almost no place in the government they designed. The popular vote did not appoint judges (it still does not), nor the president (it still does not, as the Electoral College has yet to be dismantled), nor Senators (until 1913; Madison himself said that “the Senate, therefore, ought to be this body” that protects “the minority of the opulent against the majority”[14]). The people only directly elected members of the House, yet only property owners were allowed to vote, further disenfranchising the poor and keeping power in the hands of the better off. Only in 1856 did the last state, North Carolina, do away with property requirements to vote. And of course, most aristocrats had few qualms about failing to protect the groups they were personally subjugating, such as black slaves, free colonists of color, and women. In fact, with Britain beginning to dismantle slavery, its preservation was a motivating factor for independence among the colonial elite — another instance protecting their wealth.

Granting decision-making power to the masses was out of the question. The founding fathers had interests to protect, their own minority interests. Thomas Jefferson noted that

Where not suppressed by the rod of despotism, men, according to their constitutions, and the circumstances in which they are placed, differ honestly in opinion. Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats etc. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, & wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competents. This is the division of sentiment now existing in the US.[15]

Jefferson, perhaps the most democratic of the founders, also denounced “the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country”; the aristocrats wanted to create for themselves a “government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations.”

As James Madison wrote, “Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”[16] He wanted “representatives whose enlightened views and virtuous sentiments render them superior to local prejudices and schemes of injustice” to check the “rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project” the rabble might think up.[17] For Madison and others, it was vital for presidents, congressmen, and justices to come from the upper class, which was and is overwhelmingly the case.[18] The most dangerous ideas circulating in the poor majority were those of redistributing property and wealth, forgiving debts, and so on, to end poverty and suffering—the “agrarian law” Madison feared. Thomas Paine supported such redistribution—he wrote in 1795 in Agrarian Justice:

To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America. There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and streets in Europe. Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures…

Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state…. The first principle of civilization ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of every person born into the world, after a state of civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before that period…

It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with the rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal…. Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before.

In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity, that I am pleading for…. Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds…[19]

Paine then suggested the creation of a national fund that would grant each person, man or woman, 15 pounds sterling at the age of 21, to compensate for his or her loss of a share in the common property of the earth. He also called for social security, suggesting 10 pounds be granted to each individual per year after the age of 50. Paine envisioned a one-time guaranteed income payment, social security, taxes on the rich, free public schooling, child welfare programs, public housing, and public works programs. His thoughts later inspired many socialists, like Charles Fourier and Robert Owen.[20]



[1] See Zinn, The Politics of History, p. 57-71, for a discussion on the rule of the rich in pre-Revolution America

[2] See Kramnick and Moore, The Godless Constitution

[3] Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 81

[4] Zinn, People’s, 99, 97

[5] Zinn, Politics of History, 61

[6] Zinn, People’s, 96

[7] Geurin, Anarchism, 17

[8] Frank Monaghan, John Jay, chapter 15, p. 323 (1935)

[9] James Madison, Federalist No. 10, “The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection (continued),”  Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787

[10] Chomsky, Common Good, 7


[12] Yates, Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787

[13] McCullough, John Adams

[14] Yates, Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787


[16] Federalist 10

[17] Federalist 10

[18] See Zinn, People’s, 260-261 for information on how class interests affected Supreme Court decisions

[19] Paine, Agrarian Justice

[20] Nichols, The “S” Word, 33, 46, 53;

Colonial Courting Rituals Would Be Creepy As Sin Today

Finding a mate just isn’t what it used to be. Back in the “good ol’ days,” the parents were more parental, the sexism was more sexist, and the hysteria over sex was more hysterical. The courting rituals were truly bizarre, and we can thank our lucky stars they no longer exist. Of course, most of these rituals were only practiced by white straight people, and some only by wealthier colonial or Victorian-era Americans. But today we can all mock them relentlessly together. Let’s get to it.



Gone are the days when your old man could get together with his buddy at the tavern, kick back, down a few cold ones, and decide who you’re going to spoon for the rest of your f*cking life. Yes, if you were unwise enough to be born in colonial times, dorky dads would arrange your marriage for you, hearing not your sobs but rather the jingling of cold hard cash wrought from your dowery or inheritance (depends on your gender). End up with some ugo disgustor? If you didn’t have any Freudian reason to think of your dad during business time, you certainly had this reason.



When you see a well-to-do Victorian gal cooling herself with her fan, she ain’t cooling herself with her fan, son. She’s engaged in a complex system of signals ranking somewhere between the high-step strut of the Blue-Footed Booby and the third base coach of the New York Yankees. Is she fanning herself slowly? Sorry, she’s engaged. Quickly? Single. Fanning with the right hand? Oh my God / look at that face / you look like / my next mistake. Left hand? F*ck off. Fan open, then shut? Kiss her, bro. Fan open wide? She loves you. Fan half open? You’ve just been friend-zoned. Legs shut — I mean fan — fan shut? She hates you. Good luck remembering all that. Don’t mess this up.



The age at which most colonial women married hovered around 19-22 (men were usually in their late twenties). So not too different from modern times. But remember, that’s an average. Some girls did marry when they were teenagers (others were married off as children). The age of consent in the American colonies was usually 10, though sometimes 12. Eventually, states started raising it. California raised it to 14 in 1889, then 16 in 1897. Others followed suit after that, though one technically kept the age at 7 until the 1960s (looking at you, Delawarean sickos).



Remember your middle school and early high school dances and the agonizing embarrassment of the ever-present, complex surveillance apparatus made up of moms, dads, older siblings, teachers, and Principal Bacon? Well, back in the olden days, chaperones weren’t something you could just wait out as the years ticked by. When a man came a-calling, he had to sweep the girl off her feet in front of the potential mother-in-law. There was no one-on-one time. You went over to her house and, if f*cking Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly is any indication, make boring conversation while drinking tea, playing cards, or abusing a piano. Want to come back again? You’ve got to impress the ‘rents.



Yes, one courting ritual was called “handfasting” or “spousing.” If you wanted to be married (by law, mind you), all you had to do was just hold hands and say you were married. You could do this anywhere and at any time, during this age that now sort of sounds like a Libertarian paradise. Apparently (to absolutely no one’s surprise), men would often be all for this, getting married on the spot to a nice yet sexually repressed girl, having sex, and disappearing into the night. Then daddy had to hunt you down — not to kill you for sleeping with his little angel as might happen today, but to force you to actually be her husband.



It was a simpler time, when religious parents knew that kids would mess around and knew there was nothing they could do about it, so they decided to pretend to do something about it while willfully facilitating it. We’re talking bundling, people. When parents said Yes, you kids can have a sleepover as long as you promise not to have sex, let ma sew boyfriend up in bag, and let pa install an impervious one-foot-tall bundling board between your sides of the bed. Not letting Nathaniel sleep over was, apparently, deemed an ineffective way of preventing two lovebirds from engaging in smash game in the room adjacent to mom and dad’s.



Just like today, when lovers send texts to each other while snuggling on the couch together after Christmas dinner so relatives can’t overhear them, colonials found a way to keep things spicy with secretiveness. The courtship stick was a six-foot-long hollow stick that allowed young men and women to whisper some sexy messages to each other in a world of zero privacy. Small homes with parents or parents-in-law, especially those that think touching is a no-no, mean there’s just no way to tell your gal her butt looks great in that dress she wears daily or your man that his plowing is an incredible turn on.



If you lived among the Puritans, you didn’t have to get your woman an engagement ring. Instead, you could give her a helpful piece of sewing equipment. Puritans weren’t showy people, so a little thimble could be offered to the woman (in their defense, it would later be fashioned into a ring; cheap-ass Puritans), presumably as a sign of all the trousers she will have to repair over the course of her lifetime. That’s how you really blow away the ladies.

Fictional Rosa Parks Speech

First off, let me say there are many folk who could give a speech better than I. On top of that, there are many better men and women who walked the halls of this fine institution who should be standing here before you instead. Highlander Folk School shines on as a beacon for equality, a garden that continues to grow the best civil rights activists and labor organizers in the country. I am very happy to be back here and honored to speak on the bus boycott that occurred in Montgomery just a few years back. Seems people are under the impression these days that the boycott happened because of me. I would like to assure you this is untrue. I can’t take credit for the crusade that occurred in Alabama. I was just the last straw. There were others who would not give up their seat on a bus and were arrested long before me. On the day it happened to me, I just couldn’t bear the thought of giving up my seat on a city bus to another white man and standing in the back for the rest of the long ride home. I would rather be hauled off in handcuffs than face that humiliation and degradation again. As Mrs. Virginia Durr once wrote to you, Highlander gave me a taste of freedom and equality; I thought of this place while the officers dragged me off the bus and to the station.

Look ahead a single year, and our world is changed for the better. A boycott occurred, and it succeeded. After a single year, no black man or woman has to feel the burn of embarrassment or the injustice of segregation on a city bus again. The boycott didn’t succeed because we were organized, though that was part of it. It didn’t succeed because we were angry, though that was part of it as well. It succeeded because we had perseverance. Organization defines the road, anger gets you on the road, but making the long journey to the end of the road, that is perseverance.

Activists like Jo Ann Robinson, president of the Women’s Political Council, demonstrated what perseverance really is, and indeed so did her members. Mrs. Robinson wrote Mayor of Montgomery W. Gayle in 1954, with a polite request for more fair policies on city buses. She did not even ask for desegregation, but instead requested that blacks begin sitting at the back of the bus and whites begin sitting at the front, and when they meet in the middle and all the seats are occupied, that would be it. She asked that the buses make more stops in black neighborhoods and that we wouldn’t have to pay at the front of the bus and make the humiliating trudge to the back entrance.

Her message fell on deaf ears, for that same “honorable” judge she wrote to would two years later speak at the rally of the Central Alabama Citizens Council about how to preserve segregation. His presence supported and offered legitimacy to ten thousand angry white racists encouraging the killing of black men, women, and children. Jo Ann Robinson would not take no for an answer, however. Briefly mentioning the possibility of a boycott in her letter, she later organized it and made it a reality in December of 1955. She and her WPC members worked tirelessly into the early morning of the fifth to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets calling for a boycott all over Montgomery. Mrs. Robinson and fellow activists were arrested quickly after the movement began, but even in the face of harassment, imprisonment, and threats of violence, they did not yield.

If any two men showed us true strength of character and steady perseverance, it was the two reverends, Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr. They held Montgomery Improvement Association meetings every week until the boycott succeeded. Dr. King was unequivocally our leader. If I was the spark, he was the fire. He, under the same death threats and mistreatment we all faced and experienced, ignited a passion in our hearts that helped us see this thing through. At one MIA meeting, Dr. King said, “With every great movement toward freedom there will inevitably be trials. Somebody will have to have the courage to sacrifice. You don’t get to the Promised Land without going through the Wilderness. You don’t get there without crossing over hills and mountains, but if you keep on keeping on, you can’t help but reach it. We won’t all see it, but it’s coming and it’s because God is for it” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaks to the Crowd). We did what Dr. King called us to do. We kept on keeping on. We braved the wilderness. Dr. King, in his wisdom and his own depth of perseverance, inspired us to stay the course.

Then there was everyone else; every man, woman, and child who refused to ride the Montgomery buses. This boycott began as a one-day movement. Instead, it lasted a year, because the black folk of Montgomery united and persevered together. At the first mass meeting of the MIA, Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy had to fight their way into the church through a joyous crowd of seven thousand people. In February 1965, activist Bayard Rustin noted that “42,000 Negroes have not ridden the busses since December 5” and that two men “walked 7 miles and the other 14 miles” to work each day (Bayard Rustin’s Diary). They weren’t the only ones walking those distances, either. Moreover, during this period dozens of taxi drivers and car-pool drivers were arrested. Yet we did not yield. All the while white folks talked about using “guns, bows and arrows, sling shots and knives” to “abolish the Negro race” and act on white people’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers” (Handbill from Central Alabama Citizens Rally). Yet we did not yield. We persevered together. As one black maid said during the second month of the movement, “When you do something to my people you do it to me too” (Interview About the Boycott). That is true unity of spirit.

 Our spirit went unbroken, and in November 1956 the Supreme Court upheld what we fought for in Browder v. Gayle. Bus segregation was rejected as unconstitutional and the next month buses in Montgomery were integrated. It was a glorious day when I again road a city bus. True equality is still a long way off. We are not out of the wilderness yet. However, the boycott victory has kept us going. As Dr. King said, “Let us continue with the same spirit, the same orderliness, with the same discipline, with the same Christian approach” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaks to the Crowd). There will be a day when prejudice and hate are not tolerated in this country. It is only a matter of time. Until that day, we will continue to persevere. We draw closer to the Promised Land.

Fictional New Deal Editorial

In this month of January 1935 Congress will vote on the Social Security Act. While the debates are waged in our national legislature, in barbershops and department stores, and at kitchen tables across the country, it is the intention of this paper to shed light on several key areas of the bill in drastic need of revision. The Social Security Act, if passed as-is, would create an unjust burden on American workers in trying times. By implementing change to the means by which we achieve a noble end, working men and women can look forward to a brighter future rather than a darker.

The Social Security Act will enact much-needed care for our underprivileged countrymen. The elderly, the unemployed, the handicapped, and dependent children will all benefit greatly from welfare. This paper has no bones to pick with President Franklin D. Roosevelt concerning the admirable and necessary measures this bill will take. The act will create insurance, a pool of money that can be tapped into for relief to the poor, dependent, and unemployed.

One component of the bill that must be revised, however, is who will be included (or more importantly, excluded) from the benefits of social security. The act primarily benefits white males. What about the other factory workers? What about the other farmers, and working women? Mr. Roosevelt is leaving them in the dust, to fend for themselves. The NAACP criticizes the Act, pointing out occupations such as cash tenants, sharecroppers, and domestic servants will be excluded from social security, simply because blacks dominate those jobs. Mr. Roosevelt has bowed to the wishes of prejudiced southern congressmen, and as a result most blacks, and especially black women, will never see minimum wages, unemployment relief, or money for retirement. This, in our view, is unacceptable.

A graver issue is how Mr. Roosevelt plans to pay for this pool of relief money. Employers and employees will both pay a one percent tax on the first annual $3,000 earned. This will allow the Federal government to send monthly checks to retirees. Meanwhile, unemployment hovers at 25 percent. Millions of Americans who are bringing in a small income still live in poverty. The shacks in Hooverville did not disappeared when Hoover did. The United States economy has never been more severely crippled. And Mr. Roosevelt wants to take money from workers’ paychecks? From businesses? A business that is not burden with such a tax will have more money for innovation that could stimulate the economy, or can hire a new worker and get someone off the streets. A worker with a bit more discretionary income will spend it during these hard times, saving his or her family from starvation and kick starting the economy at the same time. The Los Angeles Times has declared that the current method of funding will slow recovery. The American people want reduced taxes, and have written Mr. Roosevelt pleading for such a motion. Now is clearly not the time to burden the American family, nor American business, with an extra tax.

Instead, consider the views of Huey Long and Francis Townsend, who thought it would be better not to burden the poorest, but the richest. Does that not sound more reasonable? Redistribution of national income continues to receive huge numbers of supporters. The Townsend Plan alone has five million members, with a petition of 20 million names. People see this plan as their salvation. Long suggests capping an individual’s income at a few million dollars and collecting the rest to use for the welfare system. The top one percent of America owns a hefty percentage of the nation’s wealth. Those millionaires would do right to give more. Mr. Roosevelt says that a worker paying into the system gives him (and in this case, it is almost certainly a him) the moral right to receive money once retired or laid off. This paper would ask, what about the moral right of the rich? The moral right of Mr. Roosevelt? In our view, the wealthiest would be immoral to say five million a year is not enough, immoral not to care for the elderly and the poor when the common man, the forgotten man, cannot. Long, Townsend, the Congress of Industrial Organization, this newspaper…we do not ask that millionaires give up their millions. Just their discretionary millions.

The Social Security Act should be passed, there is no question. However, it must be made more inclusive, refusing to stoop to the levels of older generations by enforcing Jim Crow laws on welfare. The plan must also be funded not on the backs of those suffering, but by those in mansions with new cars, who never have to fear for being out of work, out of money, or out of food. The common man deserves freedom from such fear. Mr. Roosevelt understands this. If Mr. Roosevelt wishes to drive the money changers from the temple, as it were, it is the opinion of this paper that he do so not with a stick, but with a sword.

George Sakoulas

Learning a new language can be very difficult. There is grammar to learn and tenses to master. Becoming fluent is an even greater challenge. Some day I hope to speak Spanish fluently; I think that would be impressive. But have you ever met someone fluent in five languages? There is a man I know who has unique talents and skills, and lived through amazing history. He is George Sakoulas, my grandfather (“Popoule” in Greek).

“Everyone has a hidden ambition,” George says. His own was to work with words. He had a dream of being a freelance writer. George came to speak English, Spanish, Greek, Italian, and German fluently, with a little Portuguese on the side. He says English was his best language—not bad for knowing no English at all for years, speaking only Greek with his family and community. The inspiration for the remarkable achievement of becoming a master linguist? He flunked kindergarten. He could not speak English, and he couldn’t go to a Greek school—there were none. After that, his pursuit of languages began.

His father was an impoverished Greek immigrant who sailed to America in 1910. His father opened a restaurant in downtown Kansas City, called the Triangle Grill, because of its location between three streets. It no longer exists, but curiously a sculpture of many different triangles is erected where it once stood. George’s mother immigrated later. She was about thirteen when they married. George’s father left his wife for America and lived there for eleven years before he had enough money to send for his wife (and, unexpectedly, his preteen daughter Nicoletta, George’s older sister).

“I was just a boy on my bicycle,” George once told me, summarizing his childhood. His bicycle story always makes me wonder at life fifty or sixty years ago. He had a bicycle delivery route. Helping those in need, he delivered medicine all over the Kansas City. He was paid 50 cents a week, and was paying off his bicycle, which cost $22.50. His mother was worried a car would hit him. He was hit twice, but did not quit.

The Great Depression dominated George’s boyhood, when money was scarce, foodstuffs, oil, and materials were strictly rationed, and unemployment was high. George spent a good deal of time making his own toys. He remembers making a scooter from roller blades, a two-by-four, and an orange crate. He made toy guns using wood, clothespins, and rubber bands.

George was athletic, and was one of the fastest runners in track, which he did at school and at a junior college in KC. He played basketball in grade school. He remained very small in high school, and was therefore unable to participate in many sports. We Greeks are not known for our height. He later got into boxing, and was a champion in his weight division. “I got a lot of respect,” he says.

His generation was into Frank Sinatra and others. He felt too old for Elvis when “the king” became popular, telling me he considered Elvis to be a “weirdo” and a “hillbilly.” When the Beatles came over to the US, he thought they “looked like girls,” and made fun of them. George says, “So many changes come” and that modern singers “sound like they’re dying.”

When World War II began in September 1939, the age for new recruits in the United States dropped from 21 to 20. Years later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the age dropped to 18. In January 1943 George Sakoulas joined the army, interrupting his junior year in college. In 1943 the Allies invaded Italy, and the US began shipping Italian prisoners to stateside POW camps. Some were sent to a camp in Tooele, Utah, near Salt Lake City, which had been holding German prisoners already.

George was put in the infantry at first. There his linguistic skills were discovered and he was reassigned to the POW camp in Utah before he saw any fighting. “I hated it,” George tells me. While he was there he made applications to leave. He wanted to fight, not stay in the US. “Everyone wanted to fight,” he says.

“Other forces kept me from the war,” George says.

The army sent him to language school at Stanford (where he wishes he had finished, since Stanford is a prestigious school nowadays), where he improved his Italian. After that he was taken to Utah. As a translator, his primary job was to translate the commander’s orders. When he arrived at the camp, only Germans were being kept there—no Italians had yet arrived. George’s “baptism of fire,” as he calls it, came when a troop of Italian prisoners was finally brought into the compound. An old colonel who stood by him as the column of soldiers marched through the games.

The colonel pushed George towards them and ordered him to make them halt. George ran out in front, but did not remember the word for “halt.” So instead he shouted out “Stop!” in Italian, and the column obeyed. He later realized “halt” would have done fine; the Italian equivalent is “alt.”

Popoule wants it to be known how well the prisoners were treated. They were not abused in any way. He remembers life at the POW camp well. The Italians were allowed to cook their own food, and he would sometimes go down and eat alongside them, because their food was better than his own. He said he became friends with a lot of nice men.

The POWs were given tools for activities, and George received gifts like paintings. He was amazed to see a few Germans had constructed a small radio. The prisoners, if they attempted to escape (which happened rarely), were locked up for a whole week, with nothing to eat but bread and water. This was the only time prisoners were not treated well.

George oversaw a company of 200 Italian soldiers for the rest of the war. While the Geneva Convention prohibited hard prison labor, the Italians had plenty of tasks to keep them busy.

George never became a freelance writer. When he got back from Utah, he finished college at UMKC, receiving a degree in history and language. He then went into the restaurant business, where he was needed by his family. He married Goldie, my “Yia-Yia” (grandmother) who was also Greek. They met at a picnic at the Greek Orthodox Church, which they now attend regularly.

The Little Rock Nine

ED 6010 is the most racially diverse classroom I have ever been in. Let that disheartening statement sink in a moment. It is in part because Foundations of Education is a small class, without a doubt the smallest I have ever known, with 11 students. Three black students, eight white students, one white professor. I have never attended a class in which 25 percent of those present were African-American, a sad testament to the lack of diversity in both Overland Park, Kansas, where I grew up, and Springfield, Missouri, where I attended undergraduate school. These thoughts stirred within me because a memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, was still fresh in my mind when I first entered ED 6010.

Warriors Don’t Cry is Melba P. Beals’ harrowing account of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. She and eight other black students attended the formerly all-white Central under the statutes of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, which determined the unconstitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. While it is perhaps a miracle the “Little Rock Nine” survived the unimaginable terrors of physical and verbal abuse inflicted during their year at Central, the Supreme Court case that made it possible was a miracle in itself. Amazingly, the Brown case of 1954 was a unanimous decision. It shocked the white world. “Chief Justice Earl Warren worked hard to achieve the compromises necessary for a unanimous decision because he believed that the full court should be behind such a dramatic order” (Fraser, 2010, p. 293). The rulings of many court cases balance on the edge of a knife,with a single deciding vote tipping the rulings one way or the other. How monumental, that such a controversial case, arguably the most controversial in decades, would be without dissent.

The Court declared, referring to black students, “to separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone” (Fraser, p. 294). While the decision determined that separate could never be truly equal,a great step forward to be sure, the Court did not immediately order desegregation. “A year later the Court finally ordered school desegregation, but only ‘with all deliberate speed.’ The lack of a timetable encouraged the southern states to resist” (Norton et al., 2005, p . 810). And resist they did.

Little time needs to be spent explaining why white crowds gathered around Central High to protest and physically prevent integration, or why whites from other states journeyed to swell their numbers, as did local cops, or why Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus sent 250 National Guardsmen to block Melba and her friends from entering the high school. Centuries of racial prejudice and hatred explain that. Each generation taught the next how to think and behave towards blacks. Melba was struck, bruised, and burned with acid. She was ridiculed and tormented and spat on. Most of her abuse was inflicted by white students within Central. The other eight suffered just as badly. Melba recalls being cornered and persecuted in a school bathroom:

I looked up to see a flaming paper was coming right down on me. Girls were leaning over the top of the stalls on either side of me. Flaming paper floated down and landed on my hair and shoulders….

“Help!” I shouted. “Help!” The door wouldn’t open. Someone was holding it—someone strong, perhaps more than one person. I was trapped.

“Did you think we were gonna let niggers use our toilets? We’ll burn you alive, girl,” a voice shouted through the door. “There won’t be enough of you to worry about.”

I felt the kind of panic that stopped me from thinking clearly. My right arm was singed. The flaming wads of paper were coming at me faster and faster. I could feel my chest muscles tightening. I felt as though I would die any moment (Beals, 1994, p. 164).

I was struck by how much worse each day became for Melba. Perhaps it was my knowledge that her efforts would lead to change and would better the lives of African-Americans in the long term, but I fully expected conditions to improve for the Little Rock Nine given enough time. How wrong that assumption was. The death threats continued and intensified. The name-calling persisted. Efforts to physically and mentally harm the black students only became more organized, more desperate, more sinister. After hundreds of pages depicting such abuse, it hurt to read more, yet it continued. Melba and the others went through hell, and their struggle naturally evokes pity.

I did not at all expect to feel pity toward the white students, the abusers themselves. Do not misunderstand me, each tormentor is responsible for his or her horrific actions, and justice should be wrought upon them all. They will have God to answer to. At the same time though,those kids were indoctrinated. They were not born with a hatred for the black race. Their parents and teachers taught them to hate. They taught them that blacks were inferior to whites, that it was acceptable to disrespect, cheat, and abuse them. I pity the kids because they were brainwashed,molded into bigots by people who were molded in the same fashion. Researcher Kenneth B.Clark’s findings, which influenced the Brown case, stated, “Children learn social, racial, and religious prejudices in the course of observing and being influenced by the existence of patterns in the culture in which they live” (Fraser, p. 297).

The cycle continues today in some families. Perhaps that will be the most important thing to keep in mind when I am an educator. Besides parents, teachers are the strongest influences and role models to children. It will be my responsibility to inspire attitudes of equality and respect and understanding, even—no, especially—if it challenges what students are hearing at home.

In her own home, Melba received support from her brother, her mother, and especially her grandmother. It was a different story in the black community as a whole. While some neighbors approved of the Nine’s actions as a catalyst for change, others opposed it and ostracized Melba and the others. After the school year ended and the Nine had spent time around the country being honored for their accomplishment, Melba recalls, “We had come home, to Little Rock, back to being called ‘niggers’ by the segregationists and those ‘meddling children’ by your own people. Our friends a neighbors resented not only the school closure but most especially the negative economic impact our presence in that school had on our community” (p. 307). Some African-Americans, like Melba’s distant father, opposed what the Nine were doing because it made Little Rock even more dangerous for their people. Vandalism and violence against blacks increased, and neighbors saw Melba as only inflaming an already tense relationship. Not only was it more dangerous on the streets of Little Rock, blacks were rejected in grocery stores and employment positions even faster and more harshly than usual, in retribution for integration.

Melba felt the strain of ostracism as keenly as that of racism. She was abandoned by her old group of friends, who were “not willing to die” (Beals, p. 216) with her. She was not invited to parties, and her sixteenth birthday party was a lonely one. She found strength and friendship in the other members of the Nine: Elizabeth, Ernest, Gloria, Carlotta, Minnijean, Terrence,Jefferson, and Thelma. Unfortunately, the situation grew more dire for Melba. Her mother was fired from her teaching position. “Her superiors told her they were taking away her contract because she had allowed me to participate in the integration of Central” (p. 286), Melba writes. Only through exposing the mistreatment to the press did Melba’s mother get her job back (p.294). Throughout the integration process, the press would prove to be a primary force in raising awareness, stirring sympathy for the Nine, and keeping the situation at Central from spiraling into chaos. With the world watching, perhaps white supremacists were held back from their most evil designs.

Melba’s faith throughout this crisis was astounding, and it clearly sustained her. She declares on page two, “The experience endowed me with an indestructible faith in God.” Her diary entries are often prayers to God, and she often mentions times when she prayed for Him to keep herself and her family safe. Trusting God during times of crisis and pain is possibly the most difficult thing to do as a Christian; it is often easier to blame God. Melba’s reliance on Him is as admirable as it was steadfast.

Melba and the other eight would never have gotten in the front door of Central without President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and sending in the101st Airborne Division to protect the students and see to it integration took place. Governor Faubus challenged the authority of the Court and of the federal government in his effort to enforce segregation, and Eisenhower made a bold move in sending troops to demonstrate the power of federal over local government. There is controversy over the president’s thoughts and motivations, but Melba, her mother, and her grandmother looked upon him favorably for the decisions he made. Melba herself appreciated the Screaming Eagles’ protection, particularly that of her bodyguard Danny, and was sad to see them go (Beals, p. 162). Melba understood that Eisenhower was enforcing the decree of the Court (Beals, p. 145). However, I believe writing off Eisenhower as solely standing up for the federal government’s authority, as some might, is too simplistic.

After World War II, “Ike” was the most popular man in America (Kunhardt et al., 1999,p. 36) and throughout his presidency, he would avoid strong stances on controversial issues to protect that popularity (p. 40). He wanted to avoid dealing with civil rights directly, preferring to let race relations improve without government interference, but it is clear that Ike “disapproved of racial segregation” (Norton et al., p . 810). Ike was concerned about losing party votes in the South by acting on civil rights (Norton et al., p . 810). Boldly stepping in to force integration upon an angry southern populace ran counter to Ike’s way of doing things. He put aside concern for politics, a graver concern with popularity, and an aversion to controversial issues to do what he knew was right. Melba writes, “He had stepped over a line no other President dared cross” (p.309).

According to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Ike disliked racism, purposefully appointed federal judges who believed in civil rights, forced civil rights legislation through Congress, officially integrated the White House and the Army, and fought discrimination in the workplace (EMC website, 2011). In 1953 Ike said, “I believe as long as we allow conditions to exist that make for second-class citizens, we are making of ourselves less than first-class citizens” (EMC website, 2011). There was more to Ike’s decisions than the federal-state battle. He honestly wanted change and cared about the fate of the Nine.

So did Melba’s protector, a young member of the 101st Airborne named Danny. Judging from Melba’s accounts, Danny proved to truly care about her well-being. Though a soldier under orders, Danny’s commitment to Melba surpassed his instructions. This is possibly due to the soldiers being from the North, where more respectful attitudes toward African-Americans existed. “He looked me directly in the eye” (p. 135) is the first description Melba offers of Danny. A short, poignant sentence. If nothing else, it speaks of respect, even before they knew one another. Danny would later make sure Melba’s tormentors saw him and would stare them down (Beals, p. 136). He washed out her eyes when a student doused them in acid (Beals, p.173). He protected her at every turn, but also offered her advice. That was certainly not in his job description. “’Patience,’ Danny said. ‘In order to survive this year you will have to become a soldier. Never let your enemy know what you are feeling’” (Beals, p. 161). Melba writes:

I feel specially cared about because the guard is there. If he wasn’t there, I’d hear more of the voices of those people who say I’m a nigger…that I’m not valuable, that I have no right to be alive. Thank you, Danny (p. 145).

Clearly, Melba thought much of Danny and cared about him. I believe their relationship was special to both. Danny could easily have withheld advice or not spoken and looked upon her with respect. Those were not his orders. He did them anyway. Though Melba admits, “I will never know if he only behaved that kindly because he was a great soldier or a good person or both” (p. 202), Danny’s actions indicate he sincerely wanted to help and protect a student fighting for change.

Change was Melba’s aspiration. Throughout Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba often mentions the northern city of Cincinnati, which she visited before integration began. It implanted a vision in her mind of what life in the South could be like:

For me, Cincinnati was the promised land. After a few days there, I lost that Little Rock feeling of being choked and kept in “my place” by white people. They weren’t in charge of me and my family in Cincinnati. I felt free, as though I could soar above the clouds (p. 30).

She refers to Cincinnati in her dairy on September 3, 1957, the first time the Little Rock Nine attempted to enter Central High:

Dear Diary,

It’s happening today. What I’m afraid of most is that they won’t like me and integration won’t work and Little Rock won’t become like Cincinnati, Ohio (p. 46).

Melba discovered in Ohio that African-Americans could walk with pride, without having to step off the sidewalk for white people, that bathrooms and other facilities were integrated, and that white people smiled at her and treated her family with decency (Beals, p. 30-31). She found equality. Her aspiration was to bring similar change to Little Rock. In the beginning, Melba believed that just by crossing into the white world she could present herself and show whites there was no need to treat her differently. She was young, and her naïve belief that change could come quickly is understandable. How devastating it must have felt, after Melba survived an entire year at Central, when “Governor Faubus had the last word. He closed all of Little Rock’s high schools” (Beals, p. 306-307) to prevent another year of mixed classrooms. Personally, I felt a twinge of relief reading that. Melba and her friends would be spared another year of hell. The move, from a certain point of view, also reeked of desperation and defeat on Governor Faubus’ part.

Despite the setback for integration, Melba can rest assured today in the knowledge she was a significant part of the civil rights movement. She wrote Warriors Don’t Cry based on her diary entries, local newspapers kept from the time period, and her memory. Though memory can fade and change over time, I believe the story she has told is accurate and trustworthy, and is supported through other sources. Besides, far worse things have been done to African-Americans in this country’s history. Melba writes, “I marvel at the fact that in the midst of this historic confrontation, we nine teenagers weren’t maimed or killed” (p. 309). Her purpose in writing this gripping narrative was not to glorify herself.

I believe she wrote this because most history textbooks devote mere sentences to the story of the Little Rock Nine. The college textbook A People and a Nation provides a paragraph (Norton et al., p . 810). One paragraph can never explain what truly happened at Central High, and Melba knew the need existed to tell the whole story, no matter how painful it was for her and regardless of how painful it is to read it.

Melba writes:

I began the first draft of this book when I was eighteen, but in the ensuing years, I could not face the ghosts that its pages called up. During intervals of renewed strength and commitment, I would find myself compelled to return to the manuscript, only to have the pain of reliving the past undo my good intentions. Now enough time has elapsed to allow healing to take place, enabling me to tell my story without bitterness (p. xvii).

It took over 30 years to write. It took hours to read.

Melba Beal’s legacy can be seen in ED 6010, a peacefully integrated course. This Foundations of Education class is welcoming and respectful. I am blessed by both where I live and the time in which I live. In 1954, de jure integration was achieved. In 2011, de facto integration is incomplete in many parts of the nation, but much improved in 60 years,with significant thanks owed to Melba Beals, the rest of the Little Rock Nine, and their struggle.


Reference List

Beals, M. P. (1994). Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High. New York, NY: Washington Square Press.

Fraser, J. W. (2010). The School in the United States. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kunhardt Jr., P. B., Kunhardt III, P.B., Kunhardt, P. W. (1999). The American President. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

No author. (2011). Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission website. Retrieved from

Norton, M.B., Katzman, D. M., Blight, D. W., Chudacoff, H.P., Logevall, F., Bailey, B., Paterson, T. G., & Tuttle, W. M. (2005). A People and a Nation. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.