In this very special episode I interview the man who inspired me to become a historian, Taylor Marrow. Marrow talks about African-American service in World War I and II France, how this impacted the United States, and what France means to African Americans today.
Hello everyone. Before we start today’s episode I want to give a shout out to Industrial Revolutions Podcast. Industrial Revolutions covers the transformative period when fossil fuels created an unprecedented leap in human development. The greatest since the discovery of fire and agriculture recently host Dave Broker interviewed me on why France didn’t industrialize as rapidly as Britain. So if you want to learn about one of the most important times in human history and hear me talk even more about France be sure to check out Industrial Revolutions Podcast. It’s a great podcast with a fantastic host and it covers one of the most fascinating periods of history so be sure to check it out.
Today we have a very special episode with the teacher who inspired me to become a historian, Taylor Morrow. When I was a teenager my parents decided to enroll me in a few courses at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon over the summer so I could get a head start. I remember sitting down for an American history course and seeing Taylor Morrow come in with dreadlocks and a Bob Marley T-shirt or a Pan African flag shirt. He usually lectured on minorities, women and other malign people but gave them a level of dignity and respect, all the while everything he said felt powerful and important. After taking a class with him I was convinced I wanted to be a historian. I loved history since I was a kid. But Taylor showed how a historian could be a cool, inspiring person which is what I still hope to be. Taylor Morrow was born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey and attended some of the best public schools in the nation which gave him an appreciation for education. He then attended Indiana University Bloomington and earned a B.A. with a double major in History and telecommunications. He then acquired an M.A. in history from Ball State where he specialized in 20th century U.S. history and a minor in interwar Europe. In fall 2004 his first book was published reconciling the past. A brief history of race relations in Muncie Indiana. Since then he has consistently worked on the history of race relations in the United States aside from academics. Taylor has lived an incredible life traveling around the country with a band, bartending, managing a restaurant and leading brown bags at Chemeketa where he hosts conversations on social issues. On December 22nd 2013 he had his first and only amateur MDMA fight which he won in a unanimous decision. And yes we do touch on that in the beginning of the show. In this episode Taylor gives a guest lecture on African-Americans serving in World War 1 and World War 2 France. This experience had a profound effect on African-Americans because France was desegregated and considerably more tolerant for people of color. The experience of being treated as mostly equal to whites in France left an impression on those soldiers who returned to the segregationist south and spurred on momentous changes in the African-American community. With that please enjoy this interview and guest lecturer with my inspiration Taylor Morrow.
You had an MMA fight last year.
Yes, last December December 22nd 2018.
How do you go from being a person that teaches history for a living to getting in the ring and doing it I have a fight. Want to tell us about that.
Yes. So I’ve always been into lifting weights.
I’ve always been into sports and athletics and I’ve always been into, kind of, reading and history. But six and a half years ago, I was like, man I need to start doing different types of exercises versus just lifting. And then I went to this gym that a friend of mine had recommended for my hometown. When I first moved to Oregon 15 years ago I’d say it was like I was here like a year and I went to Blockbuster(video rental store) like early like 2000.
It’s like 2005. That’s what you thought about probably right now. Oh yeah that’s right. Exactly. Great. We got to go get a video. Let’s watch a video with my kid. Right. So were my kids taking my kid to Blockbuster.
And so we’re in Blockbuster and some guy I went to high school with me and like his sister. She was in my class. And so like, I knew this kid. Jay was like, Hey man, you should come train at this gym. It’s on MLK(Martin Luther King Blvd)(a main street in Portland, Oregon) and he’s like, a straight blast, like you would love it. He’s like, we do jujitsu and MMA. I never did it and then I now know six years later, five years later, I was like man, I want to try. And they were on 42nd (name of a street) I went to the gym and then started Brazilian jujitsu, doing their stand up boxing program, their mixed martial arts program.
Then yeah, I just did that and enjoyed that for a while.
I thought about doing a fight like, for my 45th birthday and I was like about three years ago and I was like alright I started doing some training and I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t that disciplined. And then, about four years ago my sister died. And so, that was like, when like the first time I’ve really not had to confront death a lot, you know, close friends dying, but I was like, one of the closest people my age and close to be with my family that died and then my two years ago my other sister died and couple other people my family died and that’s really made me think about kind of my life and what I want to do, right. I make things that I can do at this moment and then finding a way to do that. And so, I came to a decision, I was like man, I can do a fight. I got to love fighting. Fighting was something I did as a little kid. I’d probably say before I was in high school, a dozen to 18 fights, you know, just fighting as a little kid…
and so how many of them did you start, oh a lot?
Yeah. Totally a lot. Yeah. In college I still loved to just randomly start fights.
I started some random fights in college and so, I was like, I’m going to do this and so I got really disciplined and I was like the smartest way to do it though is to cut weight, get down to like one hundred and thirty five pounds. I typically walk around like hundred sixty five pounds. And so that meant there had to be discipline in eating, ment I had to be disciplined in my training. And I just got a really good gym and really good coaches. Our philosophy is at practice we don’t try to beat each other up we’re not trying to give each other concussions in practice. We’re trying to make it so that we can do this. Like, I’m a 47 year old person, I’m at each practice being like man I can do this the next day.
So before I turn it over to you and we enlighten the masses. It looks like the the levels are good. Awesome. I didn’t want to ask a little bit about you. Yeah start out.
Well let me let me just start because so basically when I was mid teens my parents thought it would be good to put me in a community college class get used to that whole setting. And I remember taking classes with you and you would show up with your dreadlocks, in a Bob Marley T-shirt and you would talk about justice and fighting the power. So, and that really inspired me just because you made history come alive. So as someone who is not your typical history teacher and I say that in the best possible means so where do you see yourself in the history profession.
Excellent man, so I was telling my wife that, I was like man Gary, you might have seen him when he was he was like 15 or 16 years old in my class. And I think the thing that I appreciated most about him, we are going talk about you for a second, I really felt like for a 15 -16 year old you wrote better than 90 percent of the class. And I can, that’s like the biggest thing that could be a college student struggles with, his writing. And you’re writing at that that age was just, I was taken a back, very good. It was awesome man.
And then your ability to participate in class was great and I really appreciate it.
Like, but I was able to inspire you, so like, to be, I will get this over where I came out to get in my profession and be a historian was where I was raised was Princeton, New Jersey.
I could really just start in my house. Started with having this privilege of having a library in my freaking home.
I had two complete sets of encyclopedias. I had one from 1968 so this is like when I grew up and I grew up in the 70s, 80s that one from my 1968 and that one from 1923 I had like this this vintage 1923 complete 1923 Encyclopedia Britannica.
That’s going to be mine!
I got so excited and so it’s like a lot of the information is like factually completely incorrect and wrong and racially biased but it’s awesome because like I grew up understanding like this was how the interpretations used to be.
And then seeing how they transition to the modern interpretations. Then I had lots of books that were nonfiction, like one of the first books I remember reading about was about Francis Marion.
Like horrible. I mean, yeah, when we brought a horribly racist human being. He was a Southerner during the Revolutionary War known as The Swamp Fox. Right, this guy that was able to lead revolutionary troops in the south like one of the kind of Apexes of guerrilla warfare during the Revolutionary War and fight for America’s freedom. But he also was it was it was a slave owner. Right he grew up within this family on a plantation. So it interesting you know it was a children’s book. So they talked about the relationship of him with this kid that was a slave as it was his friend. But you clearly knew it was his slave. The power dynamic was clear.
And this kid was not his friend. Yeah that might have been how they may be portrayed to each other but the power dynamic was this kid was owned by this other kid and when he became an adult he would be this kid’s, this adult male servant, as most trusted male servant and now was how he’s being groomed. But then I got to see like if it wasn’t for Francis Marion the Revolutionary War might not have been successful for the Patriots because of his ability growing up in the south with understanding how to use a gun. Understanding how to track. Understanding how to live the life of a frontier’s person fighting these rigid, you know, British soldiers.
So that was really the first book that I read that really got me into into history, was like reading the history of Francis Marion the Swamp Fox. And then I grew up in Princeton. So the education I got was the best education in the country. And I went to a public school that was surrounded by some of the most elite private schools that was very liberal, that had a lot of rigor. And then I grew up around a lot of really middle class, elite parents whose children like I went and rode the school bus with. I believe in busing. I was bused, there was an elementary school behind my house that I could walk to in three minutes but every day I had to get up, go sit on the corner, wait for the school buses even in the cold and ride a bus. But that’s the only way my town would have been integrated because all the people in my neighborhood were blacks or Italians. There was no busing, Princeton would like the kids, I would’ve ended up in high school with would have never gone to school with a black person, right, or someone who was a minority sort of been like really weird for them
So instead what they chose to do was to divide up to school, like, the school board chose to, you know right, they didn’t call it busing they decided we’re going to make our boundaries so that we divide up the black community, like we’re gonna put black people in your school.
And it was awesome because I grew up making really great friends and whose parents always believed in me. You know most of my teachers believed in me my entire life and the expectation was like You go to college. And so like, having in this library in my home, developing a thirst for reading, but I would say developing a thirst for nonfiction.
I’ve read a lot of fiction but nonfiction was like so much more alive than in fiction.
Fiction is cool, it has its place but I like nonfiction particularly history because it has a tendency to leave out or try to leave out what’s vague. Try to leave out, like this this idea that you can interpret it yourself, you know in general history tries to make an argument or central point and then show how this point, you know, is reflected in the evidence now and that’s very different than fiction.
Right. Well I wanted to ask you just one question. Before we get to your part which is, I essentially want to get at your philosophy of teaching history. I don’t know if you still do this but when I was taking classes you led Brown Bags and you talked about Social Justice, an that sort of thing.
Yeah. My philosophy in teaching is I try to paint a picture or at least show, you know, what was evidence and facts. A history particularly that reflects the experience of the human being, right. And so I think now that means it’s a broad based experience, that’s experienced that’s, you know, in a multi, you know, multiplicity of groups whether it’s. you know.
Leaders right. The American model and the traditional model as this has had a tendency to reflect on kind of the top down. Right. This idea that hey you’re right people can better understand if you talk about the leaders, you talk about the big events. But, you know, I went to college. at Ball State. My mentor raised me in this idea that it’s kind of, it’s not a top down it’s just balance, as this model of you take a top down on the bottom up approach. You look at kind of yeah, Let’s look at some big events but let’s look at it right. This might be the people, but who lifted these people, right. How did these structures come about, what brought about, you know, these really important pieces of change. And I think that’s what’s great about history, is that, you know, if you have a philosophy where you look at the experiences of the of the people that are shown to the evidence it’s not a picture that’s black or white, it’s not a picture that’s easy to digest, that’s a complex picture. And I would say that’s my philosophy is to teach people that we live in a complex world and then living in a complex world and particularly as living as kings in a complex world. We have this privilege and is this place where we come from that is different than any other point in the species in the history of our species.
We come from as people in the Western world from this place where we can deliver whether it’s knowledge, whether it’s finance, whether it’s technology, we can deliver things at a rapid rate that’s never been seen or done before in the human experience and so we have a responsibility I would say and that’s what I tell my students. Now you can deny that privilege happens right. But I’ll tell you that I you know I’m more religion. Ninety percent of the Oregonians I meet right. But they will never understand what it means to be black. Right. So that doesn’t mean like now is a black president will have more privilege than him. It means, like, I have to you know as a white person I have different privilege than I do. And that privilege is like pervasive throughout the country. Right. But like my access, the opportunity, my access to knowledge, my access to progress, my access to being successful was all predicated on a privilege that I had which was being born in Princeton, New Jersey. And I fundamentally believe that as a human being you have a responsibility to make the world a better place so that we can write, so that privilege, that I have this thing like man how I entered this as random as punk kid born in Princeton, New Jersey that has been able to like get a nice home, have awesome children, have great friends, I have access to great food, right, have access to great water, right, then I need to try to make the world a better place and that’s what I hope to get out to my students through history. You all have privilege whether you choose to recognize that or not. Right. But let’s look at what history was and what history is and see now how it relates to the things that you might take for granted.
Yeah that is a pretty fantastic philosophy. Well it’s one that I definitely agree with. It’s essentially based on the idea of intersectionality. Unfortunately I think even some academics really lose. I’m not going to go into specifics but I.
Well I’ll just I’ll just say being in academia I’ve had people who literally like their perspective is that everything is 100 percent race whether it’s you know some. Okay. I will go as well I’ll just say one thing. I’m I got into a debate with a person and they were trying to argue that race is more important than class because I was making the point that what’s interesting is that when you look at the Black Lives Matter movement and all of the killing of black people. If you look at the statistics at least from what I can tell more poor whites are being killed than middle class or upper class blacks. And so we got into an argument and he said all race is more important than class. And so I said to him and this person was a white person. And so I said to him OK. Would you rather be Jay Z or you and I like to think that won the argument.
No I think a 100 percent would say you’re correct, that you know, and in the United States there is this pervasive reality of race and I would say the way that you know to some extent it’s regional like where you’re at.
There’s an idea that race will definitely trump kind of class and that’s in the south. And if you are a poor white person, right. The reality of living as a poor white person is you can construct a reality where, you know, you look at yourself, you look at your condition and you still believe that you are better than someone that is black, but if you look at, kind of, the dominant structures of the modern western world yeah.
And particularly if you look at, if you classify it as a Western world versus an American centric Western world then you will see that it is.
It is a classic. It is a class struggle but this is what I think it’s fundamentally problematic about the class struggle. We live in a capitalist world. And you know what prevents this idea of a little class struggle from happening. I would say in America a lot of it is race but if you take even race out of it, like race it is this in America class idea ideology and class struggle and class identity would not would not develop.
Mark said that religion was GOP of the masses. Right.
I believe it’s consumption. In the 21st century and in the Western construct which makes Westerners feel the weight prevents Westerners from coming together is not race. It’s consumption that we can buy and consume and believe that we’re all middle class. Right.
And that’s what’s that’s what really prevents people from from joining based on like yeah we might be middle class but what does that truly mean. Are we right. If you look at the data the data suggests Yeah, we might be better than some people but the masses are still living and struggling.
So all right. African-Americans France.
Oh yeah. So black people in France. So black Americans in France.
So in the early 20th century, you know, coming off this low point in U.S. and racial relations in black people white people African-Americans were really struggling to find leadership, but more importantly motivation in different means to bring about civil and equal rights and World War One was this really big catalyst to it. It was this huge eye opening moment that there was a big possibility for white people and black people to live together and for many black people this experience was shown France and particularly in the cities of France where African-Americans that had served over there that were on leave in cities experienced something dramatically different. And part of the reason why they did this is that the vast majority of black people in the early 20th century up into World War 1. And then, you know, ended in World War Two lived in the south because of things like the Great Migration which block brought black people out of the South to the north spurred on by World War One. Now most black people that went to France there were Southerners. So what they knew about race relations in the south was dramatically different than a black person that was integrated and part of the racial code was if you saw a white person on the sidewalk you got off part of the racial code was you never looked a white woman in the eye, part of the racial code was you always refer to someone white as sir or ma’am. You had to always be put in a subordinated position as a black man. You were never called a man you were called a boy. And once you got to the point of being an old person about 50 or 60 years old you were then called uncle, right. But never was there this process in the south of calling a black person a man or a woman it was always a pejorative that was used to put him in a situation where they’re demeaned but also held in a subordinated position.
And initially what happened is, you know, many African-Americans at a higher rate signed up for World War One. And part of it was they saw enlisting in the war as this opportunity for them to demonstrate that they were Americans. That they truly fit into this country, that they were willing to defend this country and in doing so they wanted to put the rest these really old stereotypes that blacks were afraid, that if there was a instance of violence that they would run away, that they didn’t have the intellectual capacity to fight or to lead. And so they volunteered at a higher rate than any other group in the nation in the initial phase of World War One and to fight overseas.
And what’s interesting is that you have the United States that initially wanted to keep blacks segregated, the United States that wants to keep Americans from fighting alongside people that were British or that were French, except for they decided that we’re going to put some groups and integrate them in and put them under French control and in doing this there’s really just this huge impact on its effect on what black people understand it is possible for them living alongside and having relationships with white people and particularly Southern African-Americans.
And what happens is they go overseas and not only do they serve with distinction and fight well which is demonstrated in the Harlem Hell Fighters of the three six and ninth is put under the command of the French expeditionary forces or American expeditionary forces fighting them the French command and these people demonstrate this now unparalleled kind of commitment to the war.
I think one hundred and seventy one troops and officers are given the French Quarter. They’re decorated with honor. They serve longer than any other regiment and United States regiment in foreign command in France.
And so you see these people that not only demonstrate their bravery overseas but then see or experience what is dramatically different when they’re on leave and that’s what I think is important and understanding what I studied at Ball State as a historian was cultural history of France the interwar period from World War One.
And what I really came to understand is the impact that African-Americans had on French culture for the brief time they were there. United States isn’t jumping into war till a year and after the war is over. And when they get in, you know, African-Americans serve long. But one of the biggest impacts they have long lived is jazz music. Before black people came to France. Jazz music isn’t there and jazz music is kind of renowned throughout the world as this African American contribution to society and it is one of these forms of music that is just replete throughout throughout France. But I would say in general throughout Europe.
But when they’re on in France and Paris, when they are on leave the first thing these black soldiers understand is racism doesn’t exist, right.
There might be ideas of class. There might be some in French culture that look down at them.
But by and large French culture is this integrated hodgepodge of various groups. That doesn’t suggest that French colonialism isn’t this power structure that dominates over these colonial groups and comes from this idea of, you know, the civilizing mission that still exist. But if you are a black person you know the biggest thing that you would probably experience is you can walk down the sidewalk and feel comfortable and feel free to just be you on the sidewalk.,
You don’t have to monitor who you are. You don’t see a monitor where you look. You don’t have to be in this regulated box, my existence is if I’m in public and if it’s an integrated world I have to look down at my community, my eyes are always on my feet because if they’re not. If you don’t, know if you come into gaze with a white woman that is a horrible affiance where you could literally be burned at the stake. You don’t have to jump off the sidewalk if you happen to come in contact with or interact with someone that happens to be white. So as a black person might the biggest liberty you feel initially would be. I can walk down these streets feeling as though I’m going to be unmolested. No one’s going to try to beat me. No one’s gonna try to kill me, to burn me, to hang me from a noose and from a tree because I make some small cultural faux pas. I mean that’s a huge realization of many African-Americans, the realization that wait a second I’m a human being right. Like, I can walk down this world and walk in a white world that’s dominated culturally by white people that aren’t concerned with what I’m doing with how I’m living my life. They’re concerned with what they’re doing with their own lives. I would say the next biggest thing that really is unique is when they go into a pub or a bar right, when they go into a pub, a bar, typically they’re segregated. One of the things they quickly come to understand is that wait a second. I can go into any pub, I can go into any restaurant, I can go to any theater I want, to enter and go upstairs to the balcony into a segregated section, French or a restaurant I’d want to go in through the back door, into a segregated section but I could walk through the front door with my old head held up high. I can wear this uniform that designates me as an American soldier and not feel for fear of my life because what happens to many American soldiers is when they return.
After World War One it’s called Red Summer of 1919. It’s this massive peak of racial violence and racial riots throughout the South and a lot of it is driven by soldiers that are lynched and killed merely for wearing their medals or wearing their uniforms down the street during celebration. And so they understand that they can wear their uniforms without being attacked wear their uniforms without any fear and when they go into a pub or they go into a restaurant they can enter into the front door right.
They don’t have to sit in a segregated section.
They don’t have to worry about who they dance with. They don’t have to worry about playing jazz music and dancing with anyone that is on the dance floor.
Liberty is a huge construct that African-Americans come back with. The United States always professes this idea of liberty but the French idea of liberty is dramatically different than the American idea of liberty. The American Idea of liberty is a lot smaller than the French idea of liberty, right. The French is way more radical. You have the period, you know, the Red Terror in the Jacobin Benz which some people look on as horrible but it is this moment where people dramatically through violence try to reconstruct society which oftentimes is necessary whereas American Liberty didn’t take this process of purging people that necessarily you know colluded or conspired with the British the most you’re really add is tarring and feathering didn’t have mass executions and so liberty from the Americans construct is pretty passive and this is one of the things in the Trump area that I find fascinating is that you have this idea of a passivity that exists among the dominant middle class and the dominance of the culture which is you live and you do well.
You don’t take bold action whereas in France African-Americans understood that liberty is not constructed for a small group of people that everyone has liberty and liberty is not based on a skin color. Right. Sure there might be a class idea to liberty but this notion is that in French culture liberty is for everyone and everyone has a right to it and everyone’s relationship with their government is dramatically different. Everyone has the right to go out and protest and that’s what black people come to understand because in the American contract particularly before World War 1 the idea of being an African-American that wanted to go out and protest was deadly and dangerous. It meant that you were gonna get killed you’re going to get strung up from a tree riddled with bullets lit on fire and you know eight to ten thousand people would show up and cut you know souvenirs off your body piece of flesh your nose your genitalia your toes.
They take pictures and buy postcards and cheer about it. Right. That’s the reality of being a person that resisted, being a person that spoke up for black rights or black nationalism, this idea that you have power as an African-American was oftentimes met with a church being burned if not you being lynched, you being ostracized, having the inability to be able to integrate or connect with the economic community in the south
Not being able to get a contract as a sharecropper or tenant farmer and not being able to get loans from banks having to move around, go west or move up north but when African-Americans go to France they come to understand that this is the liberty that you are entitled to and that you need to fight for. And this is really the French of the Union to organize for, right, this concept that these things don’t just happen sporadically, there’s a process, as an organization that occurs and I think that’s what black people see.
They see this this future that is possible and they come back determined to bring that future alive in the United States.
And it leads to things like the Harlem Renaissance, concepts like the New Negro where you know previous to World War One African-Americans they resisted this system. It wasn’t, you know, a mask that had enough inertia to really bring about change. There was you know strong people, big individuals, some grassroots organizations throughout churches but there wasn’t a huge compulsion among African-Americans to actively engage.
And by now at the end of the war in 1918 the NAACP is 12 years old. Right. So you have this this organization that has the structures to put, you know, and fight for policy.
They also get, you know, a lot more African-Americans that become wealthy during World War One building ships, building machinery for guns. Right. And that they can spend and then they get African-American soldiers and veterans that return home that join, that are determined to bring about the ideas of the war, the things that are articulated from the aspect of the French and the Americans and the British, this idea of a democracy. Right.
What is democracy? To Americans democracy is a very limited small d democracy. Just fundamentally this republic was born from elite planters, mostly Southern white men that owned lots of slaves and some northern industrialists that saw no Protestants and a few Catholics as the people that were, you know, wealthy enough and the ethic and moral capacity to lead, meaning these are the people that can vote, right. Whereas you know the French Revolution is not born in that, the French Revolution is born in this idea that you know initially everyone can participate in our democracy. There’s a period where they try to roll that back.
But fundamentally what it opens up is this concept that democracy from the beginning of the French Revolution and then in French culture, liberty is for everyone it’s not just for this small group of elites in America. It is expanded without a doubt in the 21st century. But it’s taken a process and that’s what’s different, that happens for the black experience in World War One does that they see that you fundamentally have this right and there is no reason why you shouldn’t fight for this. You don’t need to wait right now. Do as the French do go up to the streets and protest and if that doesn’t work do as African-Americans do when they come back which is right. We understand that protest is very good. Right. Protest works. But we also understand you need to fight this way through the American system and through legislation. You need to slowly chip away building a precedent to hack away at Plessy v. Ferguson that did little that legalized segregation in this country but I don’t think without World War One the experience of the soldiers getting the training, the experience of black people in the United States moving from the south to the north, people becoming middle class that would have been possible.
And you know the black experience in France really paved the way for the modern civil rights movement and that is true. This determination that comes out and that determination is reflected in what African-American historians and black and historians in assets in general would call the New Negro and the new Negroes is kind of this idea this idea of what it means to be black.
And it’s dramatically different than previous that previous to World War One.
What it meant to be black was to mimic what white culture and particularly white Anglo-Saxon culture gave to the United States. So if you’re African-American I wanted to get in the poetry right.
You would write nude mimic in the themes and the ideas of really great white Anglo-Saxon posed after World War One during the new Negro. African-Americans look at their own culture and I now would say that this is a reflection of the experience they have in France, which is you know black culture and black people come from something.
And they have something to contribute to society and to some extent. I would see that reflected in and as I talked about previously what black people got or gave to France and gave to Europe which is this concept of jazz music. This new form of music that is dramatically different than anything that Europeans had experienced at this time. And jazz music and the genesis of jazz music is rooted in this struggle of African-Americans. It’s rooted on the plantation that’s rooted in the integration of black culture, with ideas that come from Western white Anglo-Saxon culture, that come from German culture, that is really huge in the United States, that come from Welsh culture, that come from Scottish culture, that come from Irish culture, that blended into this genre of music that dramatically changes how we perceive how music is constructed.
Previous to jazz music Western culture primarily had this really rigid super organized construct of music.
This is how music is produced that although there might be emotion that comes out of it the music is played in this really passive.
This method that it takes the entertainer and the producer out of the music, that they produce
And the highest achievement they could do is to play it exactly as written whereas with jazz it’s the highest thing you can do is make it your own.
Absolutely. That’s a great point. Exactly. That, previous to that, is let’s make this music that is completely like what this person intended. That is here and it doesn’t change.
And I think that’s what the New Negro is about, is that instead of trying to mimic this white Anglo-Saxon culture, what they’re going to look at is what are the contributions of black people to this broader culture and those contributions aren’t just African, right. They’re black and that’s what’s unique about black Americans, it’s not just this contract of that ultra African culture influenced black Americans. It’s this idea that black Americans were influenced by African culture, Native American, culture white Anglo-Saxon culture, German culture, Irish culture, Welsh, culture Scottish culture, because these are the people that they were surrounded with on the plantations. Right. Typically the plantation slave driver, the overseer is someone that is either Welsh, Scottish or Irish. This is the typical ethnicity of a Southern white person’s slave driver. Typically the owner is a rich, white ,Anglo-Saxon Protestant, right. Kind of one of these newer Protestant denominations. You know that is very different from the Anglican Church. And these individuals see themselves dramatically different from that overseer that as Welsh or Scottish or Irish dramatically different from the German dramatically different from the Catholic. And more importantly dramatically different from the African-American but they’re all kind of sharing and swapping genetics.
They are sharing and swapping stories sharing swapping musical ideas and musical styles ways of telling story ways of commemorating.
And this is where, kind of, jazz explodes out of. And then this idea of the New Negro, that black people have this cultural hodgepodge, this soup, that is just integrated within them as this unique culture that is dramatically different from others that come in the United States. And it is this influence that it’s important to uphold. This diversity of ideas that comes within black culture and that is reflected in jazz music as you say right is this idea that we can come up with this style that looks like it has this really rigid interpretation that must be played uniquely.
But then you have the individual that even if he’s playing the same exact music, does it in a style, in a beat, in a tonation that is completely on musically but is totally different.
And that’s this new Negro that comes out of the experiences on the home front and the experience overseas serving along French soldiers on the front, serving on the home front and serving on leave and Paris and other French cities.
So that’s pretty fantastic.
So why then when you have this sort of rebirth of or, I should just say, birth of black pride and this consciousness of, there can be another way. Why doesn’t World War One produce The Civil Rights Movement. Why does that take till much later.
Yeah, I mean that’s the fundamental problem in the United States right. And in the United States there the fundamental problem is this construct that most people can ignore which is race.
And even though in the modern era racism exists it’s not as it was in World War after World War One.
And as historians we look at it from this idea of de jure racism and de facto racism. And in nineteen eighteen at the end of World War One, would exist in the United States, with something called de jure racism which is racism of jurists or racism by law. So, when African-Americans return if you’re not living in the north, if you’re living in the south or even if you’re living in like Indiana, with the state being one of them, one of the racist states I’ve ever lived in, in the history of the United States but also has a deep history of the underground railroad. That’s like the contradiction of United States is that you know you have when these soldiers return. If they live in Massachusetts right. They live in a state that doesn’t have de jure racism right. It doesn’t have racism by law. They go to schools that are integrated. They can go to a restaurant, they can go to a bar they don’t have to get off a sidewalk. If you live in Indiana which is a northern state, then you’re going to go to a segregated pool, a segregated school. If you live in the deep south you’re gonna. Or even in the south you’re gonna go to these segregated areas as well. And these are all upheld by law.
So as black people they might come back with these aspirations but what they lack is the ability to put those aspirations into practice where the vast majority of blacks live. And that’s because of de jure racism. And what ends up happening is as they come back there is this initial phase of the civil rights movement that is rarely looked at. Right. So typically when people look at the civil rights movement the United States the black civil rights movement they look at it in 1954 and they’ll say you know when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. But the reality is right. The timeline for the civil rights movements being pushed back.
And after World War One African-Americans really start to put their finances and their effort into this first phase of the civil rights movement that’s called legalism. And this is trying to get at Plessy versus Ferguson which is I believe is 1896 Supreme Court case, that involved the African-American that was like one tenth black but in United States the rule was the one drop rule, and that’s one drop of black blood, you are black, so Homer Plessy lived in Louisiana in New Orleans who was from the upper middle class black community.
And he was mulatto and he tried to get on a train and sit in the non integrated section they put him to the back of the train, the segregated section, he sued, went to the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court said separate but equal right. Segregation is legal in this country’s long it’s separate but equal. And African-Americans returned from World War One. Many have more money. Many leave the South for the North. And you see the development of a bigger black middle class with the Harlem Renaissance and the new Negro. I mean you start to put their money into the NAACP. When they put there money into the NAACP, it starts to fight and build up which is the process in the United States which is build up precedent, to win small cases to fight Plessy versus Ferguson and what they tried to do is show this idea of this concept of separate but unequal. And this is the initial phase. And so it’s really this long process of let’s slowly start chipping away and let’s slowly start to get cases that we can win that eventually will lead to you Brown v. Board in 1954. And so that’s why it really takes a while for you see to start to see some of the legal constructs get torn down because de jure racism as it is throughout the land. So as long as you have a separate facility. It can be it can be legal as long it’s supposedly legal. So the recourse for African-Americans is show that these facilities are not equal.
And that’s what ends up happening, is the NAACP, you know in the 1930s really starts to fight using their legal defense fund and Supreme Court justice, first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to fight and build up cases in the Supreme Court and win cases to eventually attack Plessy when in 1954 Brown v. Board that chips away at one of the things of de jury racism.
The other thing is the factor, which is racism by practice and this is really what still goes on the United States that is very hard for many people to see.
And for many people to interpret, which is oftentimes, like as a black person, one the things that bugs me when I hear oftentimes, ‘I why don’t you just get over it,’ and it’s like such a weird thing because you don’t ever hear people saying Jews ‘just get over the Holocaust.’ But in the United States you always hear why people say ‘why can’t you just get over slavery.’ And that’s part of the problem is white people see the contract in the United States just as slavery. So, that when slavery ended right everything was fine. Right.
They don’t happen to recognize that no legal racism existed up until 1964 and 65 the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And this is I think another big piece is that a lot of white people think that we’re so removed from that, whereas black people understand in this country that we’re not like my grandma just turn 96 right.
So my grandma was born like 1923, right, so she had a great grandparent that she knew that was a slave.
That’s how close to slavery I am. I am two great grandparents away. My mom was a great grandparent away. My grandma is a great grandparent.
And she’s still alive. And this is for most black people is the continuity of slavery, the continuity of the civil rights, movement the continuity of lynching, of racial violence and it’s I think very hard for white Americans to see that. That there is this huge continuity that continues that you might not…
It’s not being upheld in the 21st century by legal racism but it’s being upheld by the people who had kids that have this idea that’s continually perpetuated. Right. That might not necessarily be. No, I think black people don’t need to live with me but leads to apathy and meets inaction.
So we talking about the influence of World War One. What about World War 2. Was this just sort of a repeat of World War One or did it have any other definitive effects on the black community.
Yes. So World War One is this process where you have men like WB DuBois who was a Northern Ray’s black liberal on intellect first African-American to get as Phd from Harvard in sociology that supported the United States in World War One. You have African-Americans like Booker T Washington and also support the United States engagement in World War One. So by and large black leadership, rich, middle class, wealthy and even poor and the clergy supported the United States, Americans African-Americans getting into WWI. And they did this from this perspective that this is going to be the war that we fight, that we serve, that we serve with distinction, that we show America that we are Americans. And so that’s part of the experience. They’re we’re determined they go, and fight, they serve in France, they fight with distinction. You know, they understand come back understanding that integration is possible but then they get into this huge wall that is de jure racism. They get into this cesspool of white supremacy which is white violence. And this is I think that’s hard for many people to understand, is the nature of white violence in this country. Right. That’s what I think is is difficult for people to really see. I think by and large the broad base of the population doesn’t know about the capacity of violence that happened to black Americans and then they also think it’s just something that is of the past. And as a black person you know it and you’ve always known it. You’ve always known that there is this reality that no matter where you are or what class you are or what wealthy build up in this country that white Americans can decide at any moment to destroy your community or even destroy your home and your life. You look at you know racial violence in Tulsa, Oklahoma the Tulsa Race Riots and these are a big thing that happens in the interwar period between WWI and WWII, what are called race riots. I want to say maybe it might be 1919 to Dorian Red Summer. But I don’t necessarily know the year but it’s during the interwar period and then you have Red Summer 1919, so you know what these race riots are. Race riots are a euphemism right there. This idea that OK it’s a riot that’s happening on both sides. But no. Race riots always mean, particularly the 20th century, early 20th century that white communities riot against black communities. And in Tulsa there was wealthy black community that was called The Black Wall Street because there was lot of black businesses, a lot of black banks. White Americans that were jealous and fearful of this community rioted and they burned down the black business, they in essence ran African-Americans out of Tulsa. I think there something the estimates are something like one point eight million dollars lost in black black wealth. You also have them in other cities and then you have lynchings that occur and so black Americans come back to this wall that says you know success is always limited by, this not only de jure racism but racial violence.
So during the Vietnam War there was a very famous episode where Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali said “Why should I go to war, no Vietnmin ever called me nigga.”
So so why didn’t this happen with WWI and WWII? Why is it that the black community was so ready to fight there but didn’t with Vietnam because.
They saw World War 1 as its opportunity to show allegiance, that we are going to fight and that we’re going to come back on and get that respect. But they come up against that wall. They’re lynched or killed. So it changes in world war 2. WWII African-Americans no longer say this idea that we’re going to go and fight for democracy right. That that Wilson said right we’re going to make the world safe for democracy.
Wilson’s argument for getting us involved one African-American soldier says like yeah that democracy means us. Right. So we’re going to come back and we’re going to get some of this democracy and they don’t so WWII they come up with this idea of the double V campaign. The double V campaign is when African-Americans say, sure we’re going to fight V for victory against fascism overseas but we’re also going to have V for victory against racism discrimination and segregation at home. So dramatically different idea when blacks go and serve in World War 2. It’s this idea that it’s coming from Dubois, that’s coming from African-American leadership, people like A. Philip Randolph, that we are going to fight and this fight is not going to stop when fascism is ended overseas. This is a fight that’s going to continue overseas victory overseas in a fight that’s going to continue, V for victory at home so I would say that this is really dramatic and part of it did not kind of the tie in to Cassius Clay gets back to the Brown Bomber.
Joe Lewis, Getting back into boxing right. The Brown Bomber. Joe Lewis, No really relates to kind of Ali. Joe Lewis was this kind of stand up African-American. This African-American that fought Max Schmeling right. This German heavyweight boxer that Hitler idolized. This ideal German, and Schmeling ended up beating Brown sorry, The Brown Bomber in a beating Joe Lewis in their first match. Joe Lewis fought them again I believe with 1942 when Joe Lewis fought Max Schmeling and this was kind of his first really big fight against fascism. What’s interesting about Joe Lewis, is he was one of these African-Americans as well that firmly believed in this idea of Double V right. That you can fight and you can fight against fascism overseas but you can come back and you can fight against fascism at the home front. And Joe Lewis initially fights Max Schmeling in nineteen thirty six, and Max Schmeling destroyed Joe Lewis in 1936. Joe Lewis then comes back and he has a rematch against Max Schmeling and Max Schmeling and Joe Lewis fight again. And that fight begins in New York City in 1938 when they have their rematch. And in 1938 what’s what’s great about this is that is this…
It’s America not fighting each other. Right it’s America fighting Nazi Germany. So white Americans and black Americans after Lewis knocks Schmeling out and knocked him on the ground are in the streets cheering together for this American, and that’s what blacks firmly want to happen, right. They see this moment under like sports and under this athlete, this idea that wait a second we can achieve this, but Joe Lewis once again, he’s just African-American that people believe in, that as the market himself. So he’s pretty moderate right. He’s not gonna be outwardly speaking out against the racism that goes on on the home front. Instead he’ll choose to support the MWC put his money to fixing it whereas by 1968 right. You have you have the Black Power movement right.
You have African-Americans that aren’t necessarily, that moved way past this idea of the New Negro, that we need to look at black culture, not only and say we look at black culture but we have this idea that we need to be openly proud of who we are as black people. Right. And this I think is most reflected in the black power in the in the Afro. Right this idea that, it had these people that really are, I have so many friends that are super against cultural relativism. It’s one of these things that really bugs me. People that say, Cultural Relativism is, it’s not founded or it doesn’t exist. And then I’ll say, you know, this idea that, so if cultural relativism doesn’t exist and why does a black person after, you know, keep their hair cut short and comb their hair or straighten their hair, particularly a black woman if they want to get a job as a CEO. Cultural Relativism doesn’t exist then why can’t black people be in their culturally natural state which is release their hair, which is to grow an afro or grow in dreadlocks. Well why do you put these contracts right. So the idea of cultural relativism is kind of unfounded. But blacks in the Black Power say, you know, it’s reflected in their hair. This idea that we don’t have to be, live in this construct of this white world where we’re told that our natural beauty is it needs to be hidden in order to fit and to be successful. And that’s what Cassius Clay a.k.a. Muhammad Ali really meant in that statement that, you know, that in the United States the construct that’s keeping black people down is not communism and particularly Ho Chi Minhnism.
It’s not Ho Chi Minhnism that’s keeping black people from prospering. It’s White Anglo-Saxon capitalism, it is white Anglo-Saxon imperialism that’s keeping black people down. And so why should he go fight to subjugate those people to those impulses of white Anglo-Saxon capitalist society. When that society is just as oppressive against him. And that’s very different from Joe Lewis and it’s very different from World War Two, even though blacks are, we’re going to fight for victory at home. It’s not this idea that we’re going to get militant about it and we’re going to be in people’s face about it and we’re going to be unabashedly afraid about it, still is this idea that we’re going to conform to the Anglo-Saxon ideas of society. Right. We’re going to still wear a suit right. We might be we believe in our art and our music but we’re not going to keep it writing your in your face.
So let me ask you a question then because France did play this pivotal role in awakening black consciousness to a potentially other way of living possibly having the same liberties as whites. But what’s interesting is that at the same time that black Americans were coming over and being treated roughly as equals the black colonials of the French Empire were still very much not being treated that way.
In fact the ( 15:18 ) when they came over essentially the in English it would be the Senegalese infantry.
They were not allowed to interact with white women. They were not allowed, the French army tried to not let them actually engage in combat because they didn’t want black people to be able to kill white people because obviously that might lead to some danger. So did that play out at all in black experience this knowledge that maybe France wasn’t so great a place for black people in general even if it was for them.
No. And that’s really the contradiction of French history and French liberty the idea French liberty. I think imperialism and colonialism really I would say in kind of the development of the Western capitalist world in Western capitals hegemony I would argue is one of the things that is that is most openly in the modern era being overlooked.
And in part it’s being overlooked because, I mean, if you look at people that are kind of center right or center left they have a tendency to believe that the Western world and Western way of living is the, you know, the correct way of living that’s brought us to this point.
So it must obviously be good. But if you look at the vestiges of colonialism and if you look at French colonialism like you say an African colonial troops it’s very reflective of how they model their colonial empire. Yeah they wanted to make little Frenchmen as long as they were willing to stay right where they were. Right. As long as they’re willing to stay in Senegal, as long as they’re willing to stay in Algeria, as long as they’re willing to stay in Vietnam, when they want to come and make this kind of multicultural French culture.
You know if you look at World War One era, look really up until the 1960s French culture was pretty resistant, to some extent it’s, I would say its resistant to some extent today. I mean, if you look at the way the French Metropolitanism is structured particularly Paris, you look on the outskirts and it’s primarily people of brown skin that live on the outskirts versus that live in the inner city. I would say that that’s really the biggest thing we have to confront in in Western society is how do we reconcile the vestiges of things like colonialism and imperialism?
And as I was reading kind of a Facebook post of one of my friends earlier. And they were talking about African-Americans and Native Americans are really kind of one of the few people that are stuck in colonialism.
I think if you look at my ancestors were brought over here as slaves. I still live in that colonial society I still live subjugated. I’ve never had my revolution my own ability to go and determine my fate or my people’s fate outside of this construct that was built for me. Where if you look at like Colonial Africa, you look at Colonial Asia, they’ve had this idea let’s go and break free of whether it’s French colonialism, whether it was a white Anglo-Saxon colonialism, or British colonialism, where it’s me as an African-American or as a Native American we still have to deal with these contracts. This is our reality. We’re never going to extricate ourselves from, you know, the the idea that we are the colonized people. Instead we have to figure out how we can construct a society that’s more just, that’s more egalitarian, and just as the French have issues, the Americans and the society in the United States, we have way more issues as race is concerned. Right. Yeah sure. African-Americans did not see how black troops were treated. And that’s in part because of the dramatic differences from the African experience to the African-American experience. And this is, you know, to be quite frank, this is reflected in the 21st century in the 20th century United States. Africans that come and immigrate to United States, one: they do better than African-Americans. Look statistically you look at Africans that immigrate to the United States they’d score better on on academic tests, they go to better schools. Right. They have they perform way better on an metrics then than African-Americans. And part of that I would say is because they’re choosing to come over here.
You have a group from the small, really tiny freaking, Yeah it’s really tiny group right.
It’s a really small subset that chooses to leave that as the finances to leave that come over here. And I would say of course you’re going to have a better outcome because they have a way better motivation. Whereas you have black people that have been poor here, they’ve seen nothing but poverty. They don’t see any way out of poverty, that it’s been there since their ancestors were held as slaves in poverty that are stuck there. Right. And so as an African if you come over here you see those people that are stuck there and you see that wait, they’re not working hard. Right. When I came over here and I worked hard right.
You don’t see all the structures that keep them and I’ve kept them down versus the structures that keep you down. So there’s a very big disconnect between African communities and African-American communities are very different in the United States and there is a lot of hostility.
So let me ask this question then because France for at least 40-50 years was very important to African-Americans. We talk World War One, World War Two. Does France mean anything to African-Americans today.
Not so much. Yeah, I would say no. Right. That’s probably most most African-Americans don’t see it -don’t really kind of pay attention what’s going on in France or the reality of a French culture.
I’d say maybe if you were a black person that’s in the jazz music, if you are, you know, producing jazz music without a doubt you know the importance of France. You know, that you are going doing a European tour, you know France is like boom it’s the center of it.
But outside of that I would say no. I mean part of it is as most Americans and this is a total freaking judgment on American education system most Americans don’t understand history.
One more thing that I would just bring up is that it seems like there was a turn against the American system before there was a turn against the French because of course in the American system, Civil Rights Act, Civil Rights movement, and then with France. I think the big turn where France had its reckoning with its racial past was really Algeria. Yes you have a very important black writer Frantz Fanon who wrote about it. It was White Masks Black Faces I believe.
Yeah you’re completely right. Algeria is really the kind of this this transition in France to become in this truly multicultural liberal society. Right. I mean if you look at modern France and you know I went to France last year, only Charles de Gaulle Airport but it was it was dramatically different from my reality in Oregon that’s very white.
No it was just this multicultural society, where like I walked in the airport and it was like black and brown people everywhere and they’re integrated.
And yes there might be kind of class segregation that exists. I would say anywhere. Right. We’ve got to recognize and call things where they’re at and particularly good friends like classism don’t tend to be brown and black.
But right, structurally the system is dramatically different because if you’re a black person or a person of color in France in the modern era. Right. You might be judged but you’re not being judged on your color as much as you’re being judged on your class.
And whereas the American construct, the judgment is still really on your race first.
Right. And yeah we understand too, like OJ Simpson, Right, this idea that money talks, bullshit walks. Doesn’t matter what color you are. If you’ve got money you can buy your way out of anything in this country. That’s the American system. But if you look at rates of people that are incarcerated for drug use for drug crimes people that are sentenced to death for murder, it’s overwhelmingly overwhelmingly black people and people of color.
And overwhelming the black people in the United States and African-Americans had their sentences.
Yeah without a doubt it’s, the United States has not we have not reconciled race, right.
That’s fundamentally what has never happened. I had a lot of people talking about reparations. Reparations are stupid. Part of the reason why I think reparations are stupid, I would love to be like repaid for that.
Right. But like the vast majority of white culture nuance it’s not going forward. So why don’t you start out from this really bad position of irritating a huge chunk of the population, versus let’s come up with some common sense ideas of getting along, right. And so that’s why I don’t like the concept or the idea of, like let’s talk about reparations. Instead of, let’s talk about reparations, let’s talk about better schools. Let’s talk about better hospitals. All right. Let’s talk about better homeownership right. Property ownership. Let’s talk about better outcomes as it relates to the prison pipeline. I mean, it gets back to what you were saying with with black lives matter and the statistics on being murdered by the cops. Fundamentally, Do cops kill at a high percentage black people? Sure. But if you look at the overall numbers, statistics of cops killing people a year you’re talking about five or six thousand people. Let’s even say at the worst year ten thousand people being killed by cops. Sucks! But a country of 350 million, that statistically nothing. And you disaggregate that by race, do you get aggregate that by race, and people that are armed and you get to like one hundred and eighty two hundred people a year that are African-American that are unarmed that are killed. And is that what we should be talking about versus let’s talk about the segregation that’s happening in our schools, let’s talk about the foundations that are created by schools that are mostly white that are able to raise one hundred and eighty thousand dollars a year to subsidize the education of the children, right versus right the plight of a school that’s predominantly Hispanic or black that has no foundation, no PTA, to make no money or make a few hundred bucks or maybe ten thousand. I mean, the reality in Portland is you have foundations that make 80-200 thousand dollars a year.
They do it to things like having auctions, and fundraising. That’s how they make their school better, but no one talks about that. Instead let’s talk about like, hey right, so everybody’s life matters. If you focus on everyone’s like matters you don’t have to care about, right, you sending your kid to school with people that look like your kid and people that are from your kid’s class, people from your kids wealth, you do want to pay attention to who the circle of people you surround yourself with.
All right. So I think I’m a lot of questions. Do you have any final thoughts revelations or tidbits on France or it’s history?
Yes! So this is what I mean, I love French history.
I love the contributions of French people to world society.
I think if we look at look at the basis of like etiquette and sitting down and eating with a fork and knife and having a plate that’s set and you look at you know the French culinary tradition or if you look at things like what the French mean about liberty and this is one of the things I like about, you know, being a person of the United States and who’s French history. Like I understand what we believe is liberty as Americans but that is so dramatically different from being like, my rights are being offended. I’m going out to the streets in mass and protesting. Well as Americans we sit in the home.
Well essentially I find the difference between the traditional historical view of liberty by Americans is always defined in a negative sense whereas the French one is defined in a positive sense.
And just to explain that in France they have libertarian parties but the libertarian party’s, libertarian means exactly the opposite than here because libertarian here means the government has basically no ability to tell you what to do. But corporations can do whatever they want. Of course Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate was in supported corporate run prisons and a bunch of other corporate privileges. Whereas in France they’re libertarians believe that the government should be enormous in order to ensure that everyone has the same rights. So as America, our traditional view of liberty has been the government isn’t allowed to do things.
It’s very individualistic. This idea that absence of government will create the best society and getting the time is back in the race.
Yeah. So me as a black person you know when Reagan, so Reagan’s big stick was,
I’m from the government and I’m here to help you. You should be afraid. As a black person. I hear that, I’m not afraid. What I’m afraid of is lack of government and lack of government as a black person is meant to me is white people hunting and killing me right.
Because when the government isn’t in control you can have your own majority.
That’s right. Yeah. It’s a chaos. You have the chaos that lets loose, let’s lose violence, right.
And that’s what I guess is comfortable about me, it’s I like, the idea French liberty is this idea that sure, it might be driven by the government but its idea the government is protecting the rights of the individual. Without the intermediary of the government then the individual rights of the person is subjected to the will of the masses. And the will of the masses particularly when they are bloodthirsty and they are ignorant and they happen to be racists, it’s horrible. Whereas when the will the masses is bent towards protecting the idea of the individual being able to be the most, you know, the most well actuated person in human being in the world and changing the world that’s very dramatic. That’s dramatically different. Yeah. The idea of American liberty and French liberty….
Yeah it’s quite a difference. You know for all the libertarians out there you might want to consider before saying that the next time you go to France. Well thank you very much for sharing.
As always. Donations keep the podcast going. So if you would like to make a one time donation or become a patron please consider doing so. Thank you very much for your continued support.