My cousin sent me an op-ed from her local newspaper. The author was writing about racism, how it is practiced all around us and has been since the founding of the country. But the turn of the editorial is that we are finally recognizing it and starting to push for the changes necessary to right these wrongs. My sense is the whole world is watching how we deal with what our history was and how we move forward in making our country and world a better place.
As a student of history, I don’t want to dwell on the past — I want to understand it and then apply what we have learned to improve. I have always known George Washington was a slave owner and that was not a good thing, but he was raised in an era when it was accepted. He was the first president of the United States. He turned down the offer to become king. One source tells us: “Despite having been an active slave holder for 56 years, George Washington struggled with the institution of slavery and spoke frequently of his desire to end the practice. At the end of his life, Washington made the decision to free all his slaves in his 1799 will - the only slave-holding Founding Father to do so.” Through our history we struggle with the balance of good and evil. The importance of recognizing slavery was wrong had to come first. The ensuing struggle to continue that move forward was nasty throughout the Jim Crow years following the Civil War. It still isn’t what it should be and some people are still trying to keep people of color from voting and pursuing economic equality. It is a slow process, but I hope with the addition of the words “systemic racism” into our vocabulary we are learning to examine ourselves, our own prejudices and right some wrongs a little faster.
I have been a “Trekkie” ever since I was a kid and I always appreciated the great diversity of the program from its very beginning, not only within the crew but the inclusion of people from other planets. When the Federation began to make peace overtures with the Klingons, it was a battle on both sides to get acceptance and peace. Another early episode found the crew interacting with a race at war — the color of the people was half white and half black — the struggle was over which side you were black on — the right side or the left side.
There is a saying, “The only constant in life is change.” And then we hear people say and I say it myself, “I don’t want things to change. I want them to stay just as they are.” Sorry, not going to happen. We can look back on our own lives with pride for the good things we have accomplished, but to finish the picture we also have to remember the “not-so-good” things we have done. History operates in the same way. When Galileo was attempting to convince people the earth revolved around the sun, when people believed the earth was the center of the solar system, that meant he was condemned by most of Europe including the Church which was the most powerful institution at that time. If the earth was only one planet among many, then suddenly we were not that important. We can teach about the cruelties of slavery but we can also teach about the improvements of working conditions and the ending of child labor laws. There is much we have to improve, but we also have much to be proud of.
We can move forward and we can teach history as it really was — the good and the bad. It is evident we are going to have to de-mythologize some of our history — “No, the pioneers did not open the West.” It was already populated and open and lived on by people with an important culture and history in this country. The greed of the railroads was a principal reason the buffalo were nearly exterminated to take away the food source of the Native peoples. Education for all of us is key to understanding. We may not like it, but it was the reality of that time and place. How do we now work toward changing the reality and moving forward with eyes open, with awareness to the sensibilities of all the people around us, and making a society where no one is excluded for any reason. We live with good and bad, how the balance tips is up to us.
The fact that we’ve been living in a kind of bubble the past year was apparent to me the other day. The isolation of Co-vid and a broken bone has given me the privacy that comes with being alone. Of course we need people (or as my mother used to say, “Without people, we get funny in the head”). But after a little time has gone by I find myself focusing more easily and I am able to see something “more” or “deeper” in my quiet surroundings. So there are some pluses to all that has happened.
The other day I was at the Dawson County Cemetery adding some flowers to my folks’ graves. It was a perfect Spring day — beautiful blue sky with fluffy clouds, little to no wind, and the temperature was just right. As I looked around I noticed the gravestones, many with names of people I have known; many already decorated with flowers; cars coming and going and people visiting quietly in family groups as they fixed flowers and walked around just looking at the graves. It was a small town Memorial Day weekend. And I wished everyone had this opportunity and every moment could have this kind of perfection.
The cemetery was beautiful and green. Visiting a cemetery is a quiet moment of remembrance. Death has a way of stripping back the layers we put on as the years go by. When facing the memorials to long dead family and friends there is no pretending. These days of people traveling the world, living in faraway places is the way it is. Humanity has always been on the move to “another place”. Sociologists say the migration of people today is greater than anytime in human history. That is pretty staggering — war, famine, disease, poverty — all contribute to the search for something better. Children have to try their wings and push themselves away from the “tie that binds”. And I get all that.
But on that day, there was a sense of returning to the soil from which we come; of remembering at our most basic level who we are. The funeral service reminds us “from dust you are and to dust you shall return.” And it is not a bad thought. At the end of life we all become part of the common soil of which the earth is made and we are blended with all the colors and creeds of humanity in a peaceful finality that is common to all.
Even with the activity around me the day was so quiet. It was as if we were all in suspended remembrance. I am a firm believer that everyone needs to return on occasion to where your family came from. Even with dysfunctional relationships, going home can be healing, looking at people with more honesty. People change; there is strength and courage rising from those stones with those familiar names.
Lately I have been reading a lot of history. I am overwhelmed by the bravery of the people of Britain at the time of the blitz and the people of France during occupation by the Nazis, the quiet courage today of people under great stress like Belarus. I have read about the changing mores of American society and the long road to a better understanding of how we are to live together in peace. And the courage of those who fight for democratic government today, for the right to free elections and voting. And the people who walk to the podium in the face of great personal danger and speak about the things that matter like equal justice for all and an end to violence and hatred. And the people who carved a life from a difficult land and people of color and indigenous peoples who have endured centuries of punishing treatment from people with no soul. But these people are rising and are demanding their right to equal and just treatment under the law.
Sitting in the quietness aof a cemetery all those things take on new importance. Life is very short and the purpose of our lives is to live with integrity and in peace and prepare this earth for the next generation that it may be better for them.
The major religions of human kind are Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These three came out of the Middle East, have one God, and Abraham is basic to the history of each one. The other two are Buddhism and Hinduism which come out of the subcontinent of India. Buddhism is not recognized as much in India but has moved on to be major in Southeast Asia and Japan and actually a great deal of Western Society.
Gandhi, one of the leaders of independence in India (1930, 40s), was a follower of the Hindu philosophy known as “satyagraha”. The term describes a major movement in the area of conflict resolution. It is not aimed at just a one time action, but rather a complete cultural transformation including political, social, and economic transformation. The uniqueness of this way is the primary importance of morality over power politics and rejects the western tradition of the ends justifying the means. Purity of ends is an essential ingredient. Another term in this philosophy important to the Hindu culture as well as the Jain (another major religion in India) is Ahimsa, a multidimensional concept, inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.
Much of what Dr. Martin Luther King studied was the Gandhian way of disobedience. Gandhi gained much of what he learned from Christianity. If you “google” the terms you will find many different directions to go in understanding and living this philosophy.
What always amazed me was the concept that self-suffering is part of the mind-set of ahimsa. When civil rights marchers were training for sit-ins and bus boycotts and other acts of civil disobedience they were told “you do not strike back.” And the pictures are many of people attacked by dogs, facing fire hoses, being beaten and jailed. No wonder the powers in these places — be it British colonialism in India or white supremacy in Selma, Alabama, were fearful. When fear no longer holds control over people and their lives, much of the control of the powerful is negated. Much of this thinking is tied into the voter suppression actions in our country recently.
It is interesting to see how people settle on various ways of dealing with social and cultural issues. Not long ago I mentioned Ayn Rand (author) and her philosophy of capitalism and individualism. The idea is that the end justifies the means and every person has to “look out for number one”. No one way holds all the answers to how we are to live in this world, but the philosophy that allows for kindness, an end to violence and conflict is worth thinking about.
We see the conflict between Israel and Palestine; China and Burma between the ruling elite and a minority ethnic group, the Taliban and Afghanis; within our society between people of color and whites and within and between political parties between liberals and conservatives. Polarization is moving into culture wars. Our society will come to a standstill if we cannot resolve our differences peacefully and learn how to compromise rather than hold to stubbornness and arrogance, violence and hatred.
(Father Richard Rohr) Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.
Birds are singing up a storm today! And I am the recepient of food!! Always wonderful at any time. My neighbor Marge brought over a small meat loaf, 3 deviled eggs and a potato to bake. Now that was a meal fit for a king/queen. I have lost about 7 pounds since I started on eating differently. My Type 2 diabetes was getting worse until I told myself -- "Avis. you can do this!" So things have been going pretty well overall. I have gotten my sugars down to a doable number and I can tell I am eating less.
Once before I tried this and it was hard work and I "fell off the wagon" in a manner of speaking. But this time I seem to have a better mental attitude!!
Friend just stopped by and we had a nice chat about refrigerators. Her just stopped so she and husband are refrigerator-shopping today. That isn't easy when you are in a small town with a limited market. The big suppliers find it isn't worth their while to see things out here.
This business of being tied down with my knee really is a patience builder. Thank goodness for things like underground sprinkler systems! Couldn't pull horses around right now.
Been spending the day sitting at my kitchen table facing the picture window. Front door is open to let in fresh air. When I can’t be out and about this is the next best thing. I always have odds and ends around to work on. Pictures today from Snapfish. I take the ones I really like and make note cards out of them to give to friends. Usually flowers, prairie, badlands, something that speaks to me. So those arrived and I have them sorted to give as thank yous for the friends who have taken such good care of me these past weeks.
On April 5th, the day after Easter I was out for a walk, caught my toe in a crack in the sidewalk and down I went. Broke my kneecap. When I spoke to the orthopedic surgeon she said, “Well, if you were younger I would probably do surgery. You would have more years of stress on it, but since you are older. . .” I tuned her out right there! Ok, I get it! I am old. So I have had 4 weeks of keeping my knee stiff, no pressure. X-rays show it is healing so two more weeks of being housebound and then more freedom!
I moaned that after 18 months of rehab from hip replacement and Co-vid quarantine and now knee rehab I am getting to be like a hermit. In the Middle Ages there was a saint Julian who was the abbess of Norwich in England. She was an anchoress which meant she was shut into a small cottage and stayed there praying and writing. It was said she had visions. While I would not doubt her visions, if I stay cooped up much longer I will start to see things as well!! Patience, patience!!
I did limp around outside a little today and still holding on to things I did pretty well. Always a tendency to push it when you get close to the end.
The prairies are so dry this year. We had no fall rains, no snow and now no Spring rains. A cousin in South Dakota has sold his cattle because he doesn’t have feed for them — grass. He sold them further away in the hopes of getting a better price in places where people have moisture and grass to feed. Worrisome times.
The State Legislature has ended their session. It was a tough year for a lot of important issues that relate to people and their welfare. Voting rights is a big one. I know that is the same all over. I am not sure what people think they are protecting themselves from — just protection from Democrats, maybe? Of course what I see is that people are afraid they are losing their culture — white, guns, Christian conservative. The liberals have been demonized to the point I don’t know how to even use the term anymore when I describe myself.
Been looking at the green and growing stuff around the house. I have lots of perennials. I think last winter was really hard on them. The weather would warm up and then freeze. My rose bushes are really not doing anything and usually my Winnipeg Parks red rose is the first of the bloomers. The bushes look a little sad as well. Last year I lost several things to blight. My remaining lilac bush looks pretty good so I am hoping that is a keeper.
River is way down. Some of the pipes that draw from the river are now exposed because the water level is so low and just a couple of years ago there was flooding when the ice went out. This year — nothing.
One of the things I enjoy doing is poking around in musty, dusty old records. The local museum gave me some things to work on while I was laid up. When all you can do is sit that is the time for sifting through old papers and letters. One box came from a lady who came to Glendive with her parents in 1881 when the railroad was built. Hers is a wonderful story of dedication to the community in many different ways. One story she related in these files was when she was married to a rancher. Indians were still wandering off the reservation from time to time. One incident she told was how her husband and all the cowhands assured her that if the Indians broke into the house rather than see her kidnapped they would shoot her! My first thought was, “Doesn’t she get anything to say in this matter?” I would have said, “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen but don’t get in too big a hurry to shoot me.”
Another woman with strong ties to the Democratic Party had a pass in her papers to Fort Peck Dam when Franklin Roosevelt traveled to Montana to see the dam. That allowed her to get close to the president. A real piece of history.
I came across a quotation by John Milton (17th century English poet and civil servant under Cromwell) which has been stuck in my brain for a couple of days. The quotation struck me because it is one you have to read all the way to the end and then go back and pick it apart to really understand it.
Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience above all other liberties. My cousin noted it on the old building which once housed the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The building which is now being torn down, which seems indicative of the times in our constant struggle for our freedoms.
It is worth studying because free speech is something we can never take for granted. The quotation first says, “give me the freedom to know. . .” Without solid information from reliable sources we cannot make good decisions whether it is in our personal lives or the life of our country. This freedom includes access to information which is where our public libraries are a vital tool and encouraging our young people to read books by authors of conscience and solid intelligence and to do it ourselves.
Once we know what we are talking about and can speak with solid information to back our thoughts, we move on “to utter”. This is freedom of speech which includes the right not only to speak out on issues important to the community and the individual, but to also belong to religions and organizations and action groups of all kinds. Milton was speaking against the conservatives in Cromwell’s government who were hampering the people’s right to be heard and taking too much power on for themselves. Our founding fathers put that human right front and center in our Bill of Rights.
And then “to argue freely”. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes talked about “free expression in the marketplace of ideas”. Can we discuss freely, allowing every person his or her conscience? Voltaire, a French philosopher, said “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Recently our State Republican Legislators passed an amendment that calls on the Justice Department to investigate “environmental groups” and everyone who is a member of such a group who lives in this State. I wonder if this includes Ducks or Trout Unlimited. As one state newspaper noted, membership in a nonprofit and/or volunteer organization is absolutely a form of free speech and the freedom to assemble. Did these legislators discuss the fact they were going to investigate Montanans and the groups to which we belong when they ran for office? The tentacles of this amendment are long and sticky and we could see them stretch far out into the rights of the people of Montana. Frankly, this amendment smacks of fascism and that crack in the door of our freedoms which soon finds many of our other freedoms gone as well. Can we assume this was an ‘oops! Didn’t mean that!’ That our state legislators did not read all the way to the end of the amendment as it was presented or even read it at all before they vote.
Scripture speaks to us of the “cornerstone”of our faith. The cornerstone is, of course, Jesus. But the Apostle Paul goes on to suggest that that cornerstone causes people to stumble and fall when they are not watchful about what they are constructing. That insight is helpful in looking at the recently proposed infrastructure plan.
I recently heard someone say, “that a budget is a moral document.” Where the money goes is where the priorities of the institution lies. Those priorities will determine the infrastructure, that is the success and stability, of that institution. Many years ago I remember a community member resigning from our school board because all the discussion was on bricks and mortar and not on students and learning. School boards need to begin with the students and their needs and then work out from that point. A former pastor once told our church board that a “Church budget is always a faith document.” If everything is going for upkeep and very little for missions and outreach and dealing with the poor, then the church has lost its focus. Better to have a storefront church than be wrapped up in a building and its beautification. I saw a poster that said, “Wear the old coat, buy the new book.” Again a statement on where your priorities are.
Now of course budgets need balancing and there is a need for contingency funds both personal and for larger institutions. But all focus should be on what good that budget can do. Children need to have comfortable desks, safe rest rooms, good meals, broadband access and well-stocked libraries. Teachers’ salaries need to measure what we are calling on them to do. Hospital personnel need the supplies and equipment to save lives. Savings, yes. Commonsense projects, yes. But still, the lives and well-being of those who call this place “home” should be our main focus.
I wish the U.S. Congress could take a bus trip throughout the country to inner cities desperation and poverty and rural isolation. “This isn’t flyover country. This is home.” (Sen. A. Klobuchar)
That is why I have been pleased to see the definition of the recent infrastructure bill includes more than bridges and roads. Infrastructure is the foundation built of everything we need to thrive, not just survive, as a people. That is why the talk of broadband access for every person in the country, for example, is so important. Someone recently pointed me to an article in the book OUR TIMES OUR LIVES about a Works Progress Administration project in Glendive. The WPA, i.e. government, brought in heavy-duty sewing machines and sewing rooms were set up in the basement of the high school and in Richey from 1935-1940.
Bundles of cut material came from Butte for boys’ and men’s shirts, children’s coveralls, girls and women’s blouses and slacks and men’s work pants. Recipients of the clothing were many. They mass-produced clothing for the poor, made curtains for the CCC camp near Butte and made bandages. Many volunteered time to make quilts after hours and fix football uniforms. Something to provide work for women, a little extra income and work with a purpose. It was all for building a sturdier foundation.
Infrastructure covers every aspect of our lives — racial equity, health care, insurance, and free clinics, for example. Our government buildings like our City Hall need updating and better accessibility for every citizen. The farm to market roads need care and anything having to do with transportation of goods and services to people (i.e., markets) — air service, rail service, ocean travel must be updated and cared for.
The past few years there has been a chipping away at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to be shaped into a document that serves only special interests and a certain economic class of people. The issue of infrastructure is already political. Stubbornly, both sides put up unnecessary roadblocks simply because they don’t want the other fellow to look good. “A budget is a moral document”. We have millions and millions of people in this country who need help. The Depression of the 1930s may be 80 years ago, but the problems and issues are basic and moral ones and are still with us. The rich continue to fill their pockets and the politicians continue to accumulate power. And the people suffer.
Sometimes out here on the prairies we tend to think of ourselves as a “backwater” in the great scheme of things. I was attracted to presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar’s slogan for her campaign in 2020: “This isn’t fly-over country. This is home.” She is from Minnesota and spoke often to the notion that too many people think Midwestern people don’t have a voice to be heard in the national discussion.
March is Women’s History Month, so it has been interesting that while working with folks from the Frontier Gateway Museum a number of items dealing with Dawson County women have surfaced. Catherine McCarty and Grace Marron Gilmore were well-known in early Glendive, Dawson County and Montana. Many people have read Catherine McCarty’s autobiography From Blue Grass to Big Sky. McCarty came here from Kentucky and homesteaded 320 acres in Garfield County before finding her way to marriage and Glendive. She lived to be 107 years of age. Of her many accomplishments one is the giving of land to Makoshika State Park which included McCarty’s cabin, well-known to anyone who roamed the Park in the 1950s and 1960s. It still stands and is being re-vitalized by the Park.
In the 18th Legislative session of the Montana Legislature, Catherine was one of two of the first women elected to the legislature (1923-1925). In 1919, she began working for the Dawson County Red Cross as Home Services chairman. In that capacity she assisted veterans of the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War in obtaining benefits, finding work, seeking medical care, etc. She also worked for the Red Cross in drought relief during the 1920s and 1930s. She also served on the Dawson County Veterans Advisory Board, and worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). Catherine had also applied to be a yeoman in the Navy during World War I.
But even before Catherine McCarty there was Grace Bendon Marron Gilmore. She came to Glendive in 1881 when her father Ira Bendon was hired to build houses for the people following the Northern Pacific Railroad. Her obituary said at fifteen she married a rancher from the Red Water area, living there until his death when she returned to Glendive. Gilmore's community involvement translated into political activism. During Montana's successful statewide suffrage campaign in 1914, Gilmore represented Glendive at the suffrage parade at the state fair. After the achievement of woman suffrage at the state level, Gilmore continued her political engagement. She went to Paris, France in 1919 with the National Catholic War Council during World War I as a hostess with the Catholic Welfare, after doing war work in Washington, D.C. In 1924 The Flathead Courier noted that Gilmore was a part of the executive committee to help the Democrats organize events to elect members of the Democratic Party to various positions in government. She is remembered as an author, historian, and pioneer.
In more recent days Louise Cross was active in the Glendive community and the State of Montana. She was the chair of the committee on the environment when the new Montana Constitution was written in 1972 (the only woman to chair a committee) and she remained active in environmental affairs for many years. She was a member of the Ducks Unlimited, Audubon Society, National Wildlife Foundation, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Dawson County Resource Council. In 1997 she advocated for the Glendive City Council’s approval of Resolution #2534 to protect Makoshika State Park from oil development. Louise was elected as a delegate to the 1972 Montana State Constitutional Convention where she continued to defend the environment. Because of her unfaltering leadership and the unfailing support of her fellow delegates, Montana’s Bill of Rights contains a constitutionally protected right to a “clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” Among other things, the article provides for land reclamation and water rights. This article was challenged in 1991 and upheld by the Montana Supreme Court. (Thanks to the family for an obituary that preserved much of what Louise believed in.)
With the help of others, Louise was instrumental in organizing the Frontier Gateway Museum. She loved Western history. Her hard work and careful use of limited resources helped the museum to grow and be recognized today for the important institution it is. Her work in the State and the community was well recognized.
There is more to be learned about these women who worked for women’s rights. It is 100 years since women earned the right to vote. Some one said ”women were given the right to vote”, but a suffragette said, “we fought for the right to vote.” And until the Equal Rights Amendment is passed the job is not done.
Catherine McCarty, Grace Gilmore and Louise Cross and other pioneer women were women of courage and great personal strength. We need to learn more of their history and legacy and we need to continue their work to make better this place in which we live between the banks of the Yellowstone River and the soaring badlands.
Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “Tell the truth! Straight in the eye!” The premise being that no one could lie looking his or her accuser directly in the face. The idea has some merit. Although we also have the term, “bald-faced liar” meaning they can look you in the eye and still lie.
As Holy Week approaches, I have been reading some devotionals on the Passion of Christ. One author I read was talking about Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate is trying to find out just who Jesus really is and if Jesus deserves to die. In the course of cross-examining Jesus, Pilate asks the question — “What is truth?” Pilate’s question was coming from his experience with Imperial Rome — a place of corruption, bribery, lying, assassinations. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We really don’t know much about Pontus Pilate after he appears in history at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, but one source says he killed himself at the order of the Emperor Caligula sometime after 36 BCE. His search for truth ended.
All of history is a search for truth. Every nation has to struggle with the truth of its own history. While the U.S. has accomplished much in science, literature and the arts, living standards and international relations, we are at a moment when we have to stop and have the discussion among ourselves —“What is our truth?”
That question is on my mind after seeing the movie “The United States versus Billie Holiday”, a drama about the life of the Jazz singer. She came from a time and place in our history where to be black and poor and a woman meant you were never going to have an opportunity to stand straight and tall and discover your own truth. As a famous jazz singer, one of her signature songs was “Strange fruit.” Written by Lewis Allen (Abel Meeropot) in 1937, the song is about the lynchings in the South during the days of “Jim Crow”. “Jim Crow” was an attempt by white supremacists to return to the pre-Civil War South and slavery. Because she would sing this song, the U.S. Government tried to keep her quiet saying the song “stirred people up”. She was harassed to the end of her life. The one hundred years after the Civil War was a time when people of color were harrassed for speaking and voting. This fight continues. Today (March 8) we are remembering the 56th anniversary of the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and the violence which followed. Legislatures around the country, now in session, are attempting to make voting more difficult for people of color and minority groups. Native American reservations are facing restrictions from state legislatures. We in Montana are not exempt from voter suppression and blocking the rights of people we don’t agree with. In many other regions, roadblocks of various kinds mean people of color and sexual orientation are being legislated out of the right to make decisions that affect them and this country.
What is truth? How are we going to teach our nation’s history to the next generation? We are proud of the men and women who shaped this nation, defining words like freedom and liberty. We recognize those who step forward and are active in working to make things better for everyone today. We can be proud of men and women of every religion, color, creed and gender orientation who stand up to be counted. We have much to share with the world about living together in community. That is why it is so important to answer this question: How are we telling our truth? How we answer this question will shape our story for generations to come.