This is a very interesting, enjoyable report from Michelle Miller on CBS This Morning. It covers both entertainment and politics, and looks at the history of the controversial song about lynching, "Strange Fruit," that became a signature song for Billie Holiday. Though at the heart of the new Hulu movie, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, the politics of the time -- and its overlap with today -- weaves through the story.
But there are also a lot of surprises that pop in throughout, as the two sons of the songwriter give their insight into the song and its history. And the biggest twist comes about five minutes in. Not to overemphasize the idea of "surprises" and "twists," these aren't oh-my-God! things that take the story in completely different directions, but rather parts of the story that are unexpected and fun to learn, notably about people who are part of the tale.
There's also an interesting, small surprise at the end. However, the reporter makes a mistake about it. But being a surprise (of sorts), I don't want to give it away here. But I'll explain below the video that I've embedded below.
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Since you've gotten this far, I can now explain the minor mistake that Ms. Miller makes at the end of an otherwise very good, interesting report.
Actually, it's more a case of one minor mistake, and one small lapse of full information.
The other song referenced at the end that Abel Meerapol also wrote was titled, "The House I Live In." What Ms. Miller says is he title -- "What is America to Me" -- is only just a line from the song.
And also, although Frank Sinatra did record the song and sang it throughout his career, the impression given here is that he introduced the song, but in fact it was written for a musical Let Freedom Sing in 1942. Sinatra did popularize it, however. And the great Paul Robeson had a famous recording, as well. But more on all that tomorrow.
I was going to make this a "Tweet of the Day," since it comes from a tweet -- but it's to substantial for just that. As the note describes, it concerns Sir Nicholas Winton who saved many hundreds of children from Germany. The shame is that this is only a few minutes, because I'm sure the full TV program at the heart of this would have been especially moving and wonderful. Happily, this is plenty good.
It also puts in deeper perspective the previous administration taking children away from their parents and putting them in cages.
Elsewhere on Mr. Simanowitz's timeline, he had a quote from Nicholas Winton, who passed away in 2015 at the well-earned age of 106. "Don't be content in your life to just do no wrong. Be prepared every day to try to do some good."
A few months back, I wrote about an upcoming book co-written by my friend Steve Fifer back in Chicago, It's In the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior, an autobiography of Civil Rights legend C.T. Vivian, who collaborated with Steve. Vivian sadly died this past July at age 96, although happily his memorial service got a great deal of national attention, including having Barack Obama as one of the speakers
I'm above three-quarters through the book and am enjoying it -- especially because so much of it concerns voter suppression and the fight through the 1950s and early '60s for the Voting Rights Act. Talk about timely. (Vivian, who helped lead many of the non-violent protests during that time, also briefly addresses when the Supreme Court reprehensibly rolled back the Voting Rights Act, basically saying it wasn't needed in full anymore since basically All is Well. The reason I bring it up today is because of a passage I read yesterday.
In that section, Rev. Vivian talks about a confrontation he had in 1965 with the infamous racist Sheriff Jim Clark in Selma on the courthouse steps. The event was noteworthy enough that the book quotes Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and U.N. Ambassador as saying that without that moment, which was caught on film and played extensively on television, that "We would not have had the Voting Rights Act." Reporter Ernie Suggs of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is quoted that because it was on television, historians have called the exchange on the steps "one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement."
The book even explains how to find the important moment online -- which I suspect was a Fiffer inclusion. I won't say why the confrontation was so important, since it will stand out all the more if you see it as if new, and I tracked down the video to post here.
Vivan says about Sheriff Clark that he "was a bully, but he was hardly unique. His society, his cultute allowed bullies. Look at the values that the churches they went to taught. You can't be good under those circumstances. Understanding this, you won't be surprised to learn that Clark not only denied our contingent of would-be registrants entry to the courthouse, but his manner was, shall we say, less than friendly polite."
And not only is that him saying this half-a-century later, but watching the video, and from want C.T. Vivian says in the book, it seems pretty clear that he knew this at the time about Sheriff Clark, and went out of his way to push things to their fullest on the courthouse steps. Clark, of course, could have stepped back and handled the situation as a sheriff should. Rev. Vivian appears pretty certain he wouldn't. In fact, as Pulitzer Prize-winning civil rights historian Taylor Branch said about the exchange that Vivian "knew it was gonna advance the movement the moment it happened."
Here's that famous confrontation on the Selma courthouse steps.
I've been planning to write a piece for a while about Mary Schmich, who is one of my favorite columnists and writes for Chicago Tribune. (She wrote the famous "Wear sunscreen" graduation tips most people think was by Kurt Vonnegut.) She has a very good piece today about the new "Chicago 7" Netflix movie by Aaron Sorkin and a juror who is part of local history. I'll get to the planned column later -- there's no rush on it these days, when other news pushes it back... -- but you can find her latest column here.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is historian Douglas Boin. He and All discuss, as Al describes, “the uncanny parallels between Trump’s America and 410 AD Rome” when there was “hatred of immigrants, religious intolerance, systemic racism. And an Asshole emperor. Sound familiar?” The two talk about the story of Alaric, the Goth who led the sacking of Rome. Also, Al says he “establishes once and for all that the Romans killed Christ, not the Jews!”
The other day, to augment his clueless quote about Winston Churchill, Trump told the story of Churchill going outside to stand on the roof of a building during the Blitz and broadcast a speech to the British people. I think the fake point he was trying to make was showing how the Prime Minister tried to calm the public by showing there was no reason to panic and just stay calm and carry on. There's just one problem with his story -- and you're probably way ahead of me here -- it's not true. Need I say, "of course"?
It was legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow who would periodically go on the rooftop of the building CBS would broadcast from, and he would do his news report back to the United States (his famous "This...is London" broadcasts), as bombs could be heard exploding in the background. And it wasn't done to calm anyone, but to keep people fully informed and and honest as possible.
Murrow is one of my few "heroes" in broadcasting, and I've read three biographies on him. So, when I heard Trump telling the story about Winston Churchill, I could only cringe and shake my head.
Which is a long way to explain why I thought it would be a good time to have this clip of Edward R. Murrow as the 'Mystery Guest' segment of What's My Line?
Murrow had one of the most recognizable voices in radio and TV (in large part because of those London broadcasts), and so he works hard to disguise it. This video comes from December, 1952 – that's notable because while Bennett Cerf is on panel, this is so early in the show's run that he's not yet in his traditional seat on far right.
If you want to jump right to Murrow's appearance, it starts around the 16:30 mark. Nice, too, is that after the game, he sticks around to make a nice, moving presentation afterwards
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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