Some Signs of Hope in Flint Township, Michigan

Here is a taste of MLive’s coverage:

The peaceful march in Flint Township started at 6 p.m. with a small group of about eight people, but quickly grew to hundreds. The group blocked I-75 southbound on- and off-ramps along Miller Road.

Supporters in vehicles, in a line stretching nearly a quarter mile long, drove behind the walking protesters.

Signs reading “Black lives matter,” “White silence is violence” and “Racism is still the biggest pandemic we face” were seen in the crowd. Chants were heard, including “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”

“This is historic. The whole damn city is out here. Man, look at this. This is bigger than any one of us. This is for Ahmaud Arbery. This is for Breonna (Taylor). This is for George Floyd. This is for anyone who was ever silenced. This is for all of us,” said Johnie Franklin, a lifelong Flint resident and organizer. “We just wanted to be heard. We wanted to have a conversation … and after today, I know we’ve been heard.”

After more than two hours, the march was led to the Flint Township Police Department, where protesters were met with a line of Flint Township officers and Genesee County Sheriff’s deputies wearing riot gear and holding batons.

Protesters initially sat down to show their peace, and after conversations sparked between police and protesters, common ground was found. High-fives, hugs and fist bumps were exchanged.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson took his helmet off and put his baton on the ground as a sign of peace.

Swanson and other Flint-area police officers ultimately joined the march, which continued back past the Genesee Valley Mall onto Miller Road to the Target parking lot.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be — the police working with the community,” Swanson said. “When we see injustice, we call it out on the police side and on the community side. All we had to do was talk to them, and now we’re walking with them. … The cops in this community, we condemn what happened. That guy (Chauvin) is not one of us.”

Read the entire piece here.

Back in the Zoo: “Essential”

Annie at Greenhouse

About 15 years ago, I visited Westrate’s Greenhouse with my family. Now, I’m employed there as an essential worker.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about her experience as an “essential worker.” –JF

A little over two weeks ago, I became an essential worker. I finished my last virtual exam on a Friday afternoon and reported for duty at a local greenhouse on the following Monday morning. Some might be surprised that greenhouses are considered essential businesses, especially those that don’t grow food. Surely we can survive without decorative plants in our gardens or baskets hanging from our front porches, but as an agricultural enterprise the greenhouse at which I am employed has not been forced to shut its doors. Further, quarantine has made gardeners out of many of us–my family included–so I’ve had no trouble keeping busy at work.

I never thought I would be an essential worker. After all, I’m not battling the coronavirus first hand in a hospital or re-stocking shelves with toilet paper and cleaning supplies. I’m not sewing masks or making difficult decisions regarding the public health of my community. I’m really just moving flowers around, and planting some every once in a while. Yet I’m going to work every day during a time when many are still stuck at home, so “essential worker” is a label I bear.

There’s no mistaking that labeling some goods and services “essential,” while deeming others “non-essential” has created controversy. Protestors gather weekly across the nation to voice their complaints. Many express their frustration over social media that abortion clinics and news agencies remain open while small businesses and hair salons stay closed. Last week President Trump declared churches and other places of worship essential, and therefore exempt from social distancing rules. Other businesses, like greenhouses growing flowers for instance, stay open even though they’re not necessarily needed to sustain human life. Evidently, the term “essential” is not as straight-forward as it seems.

However, deeming some goods essential and others non-essential is not a new practice. Nearly 80 years ago when the United States fought in World War II, many of the nation’s factories were converted to the production of military items for the Allies. Luxury goods like musical instruments were deemed non-essential and produced in limited quantities–if at all. Thousands of Americans, many of them women, left their households and became essential homefront workers; not only did they help manufacture critical supplies for the war, but they also made do without certain non-essential items that took the back burner during war-time.

Way back in my junior year of high school, I interviewed an incredible woman named Irene Stearns for a National History Day project. Irene (who I wrote about in one of my first blog posts) lived through the Great Depression and World War II. In a way, she lived through her own “unprecedented time” long before this one. Irene worked for Gibson Guitar in Kalamazoo, a factory that earned three Army-Navy E awards of Excellence in wartime production. During World War II, Gibson produced intricate screw machine products, glider skids, and machine gun products–all “essential” products the military needed during the war. But Irene did not produce any of these items. Instead, she coiled guitar strings for the thousands of less-essential musical instruments Gibson produced under the radar between 1941 and 1945.  While not deemed essential, I like to think that the strings Irene crafted went on to play music that brightened many dark days.

I’m still wrestling with what it means to be an essential worker. I still don’t think my job is nearly as important as those “on the front lines.” But like Irene, I go to work and do my part, however small. I’m not making masks or machine gun parts, but I like to think that the flowers I help grow may go on to brighten many dark days.

Citizens Must Keep Calling-Out Trump

Trump corona speech

Here is the latest Trump tweet:

Here is The Washington Post:

President Trump on Wednesday escalated his campaign to discredit the integrity of mail balloting, threatening to “hold up” federal funding to Michigan and Nevada in response to the states’ plans to increase voting by mail to reduce the public’s exposure to the coronavirus.

Without evidence, Trump called the two states’ plans “illegal,” and he incorrectly claimed that Michigan’s “rogue” secretary of state is planning to mail ballots to all voters. The state is planning to send applications for mail-in ballots to all voters — not ballots themselves.

“This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted about Michigan. “I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!”

Trump later corrected the error and suggested he would not need to withhold federal money, but he did not retreat from his claim that both states are taking steps that will encourage voter fraud. A spokesman for the Trump campaign asserted that the Michigan secretary of state did not have legal authority to send ballot applications to all voters, a claim that she disputed.

Speaking to reporters later at the White House, the president claimed without proof that mail-in ballots lead to “forgeries” and “thousands and thousands of fake ballots.”

“I think just common sense would tell you that massive manipulation can take place,” he said. “And you do have cases of fraudulent ballots where they actually print them and they give them to people to sign, maybe the same person signs them with different writing, different pens. I don’t know. It’s a lot of things can happen.”

The president’s aggressive and unfounded rhetoric drew immediate rebukes from Democrats and voting rights activists, who accused Trump of intentionally sowing mistrust in U.S. elections.

And his claims that absentee voting will encourage cheating are at odds with the activity of state and national GOP leaders, who are mounting aggressive field operations, including mass mailings of ballot applications, to encourage their voters to cast ballots by mail. GOP officeholders in various states — including Nevada — are also backing expansions of absentee voting because of the pandemic.

Read the rest here.

Voter fraud is very rare. And let’s not forget Trump voted by absentee ballot in this year’s Florida primary, leading to a baffling exchange at an April press conference.

Some will get tired of people who hold Trump’s feet to the fire. They will say we have “Trump-derangement syndrome.” If such a syndrome means that one will not sit back and tolerate this president’s lies, hypocrisy, narcissism, and failure to lead during this pandemic, then I am happy to be called deranged. As Philip Vickers Fithian taught me, “political jealousy is a laudable passion.

Keep sending those e-mails! 🙂

Even Trump is Criticizing Georgia Governor Brian Kemp

Virus Outbreak Georgia

Here is Rick Rojas at The New York Times:

President Trump on Wednesday criticized the decision of a political ally, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, to allow many businesses to reopen this week, saying the move was premature given the number of coronavirus cases in the state.

“I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he is doing,” Mr. Trump said at a White House briefing. “I think it’s too soon.”

Mr. Kemp, a Republican, announced on Monday that he had cleared the way for what he described as a measured process meant to bolster the economy, as Georgia, like the rest of the nation, grapples with the devastation brought by the pandemic.

Yet the decision was immediately assailed, as public health experts, the mayors of Georgia’s largest cities and others warned that it stood to have perilous consequences. Mayors said the decision had caught them off-guard and questioned its wisdom. Business owners who were otherwise eager to revive their livelihoods said they would hold off.

The governor’s plan gives permission to gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen on Friday. Then, on Monday, restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service, and movie theaters and other entertainment venues can reopen.

“I love those people that use all of those things — the spas, the beauty parlors, barbershops, tattoo parlors,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “I love them. But they can wait a little bit longer, just a little bit — not much, because safety has to predominate.”

Read the rest here.

Trump wants to “liberate” the people in states with Democratic governors who have instituted strict stay-at-home orders. He has encouraged “open-the-economy” protests in state capitol cities such as Lansing and Harrisburg.  These protests have been little more than Trump political rallies.

Now, when diehard Trumper Brian Kemp decides to open Georgia’s economy, Trump says it is too soon. Which Trump will garner the loyalty of the protesters in Lansing and Harrisburg? Will it be the “liberate the economy” Trump or the “not yet, it’s too soon” Trump? Historians are going to have a field day with this president and his response to the COVID pandemic.  And it’s not going to be a pretty story.

Back in the Zoo: “Heil Whitmer?”

Heil Whitmer

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about the coronavirus protests in her home state–JF

A woman donning blue jeans, a puffy jacket and sunglasses stood proudly on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol last Wednesday. In gloved hands she held a poster painted with the phrase “HEIL WITMER” in red and black letters. A crimson swastika took a prominent place on the upper right-hand corner of the sign. Another poster, this time taped to the back of someone’s black pick-up truck, also bore Nazi imagery. This one had a photo-shopped image of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, toothbrush mustache and all, in a Hitler salute with a Nazi flag flying behind her shoulder. In bold white letters the bottom of the sign read, “AMERICAN FLAGS ARE NOT ESSENTIAL ITEMS.”

Frustrated with new stay-at-home restrictions, the individuals who crafted these signs were some of a few thousand Michiganders who traveled to Lansing last week for “Operation Gridlock.” In a lot of ways, I can empathize with their frustration. I like having the freedom to go where I please, when I please, for whatever reason I wish. I don’t like being stuck at home, unable to go to school or church or my favorite restaurant. There is nothing wrong with protesting (safely), voicing your opinions, and holding leaders accountable for their actions; in fact, I have been to a few protests myself in the past. There is nothing wrong with being frustrated, or wanting to go back to work. But equating Gretchen Whitmer and her stay-at-home order with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich takes things much too far. They are not the same.

I’m no expert on Nazi Germany, but I know enough from my “History of Modern Europe” class that our current suffering in no way compares to that of Jews living under the Third Reich. When Hitler ruled Germany, Jews lost their citizenship under the Nuremberg laws. They lived in ghettos and starved to death in the streets. Millions more were sent to Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, and several other concentration camps where they were immediately gassed or forced into hard labor. Under Hitler’s discretion, the Third Reich exterminated over six million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other individuals in an attempt to establish the Aryan race. Gretchen Whitmer is not Adolf Hitler. Some may not like her or agree with her, but to equate her to a fascist is inaccurate and callous. 

At the same time, though, I am well aware that President Trump has also been caricatured as a Nazi time after time. Before his inauguration back in 2017 and during his impeachment this past year, scores of signs, social media posts, and opinion pieces compared Trump to Adolf Hitler. And yet, since the election of President Trump in 2016, most Americans have not had to re-live the Holocaust. Some may not like him or agree with him, but to equate President Trump to a fascist is also inaccurate and callous.

As a student of history, I can’t help seeing the present through the lens of the past. We historians do not typically wear rose-colored glasses, but we do carry flashlights. We seek to illuminate, to expose, and to make known. As we step into the shoes of those who lived in the past, we try our noble best to shed light on the path we walk in the present. It is our job, and it is our duty. And I will complete it with honor in the years to come.

This is a “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” moment

Whitmer help

Jeff Kowalsky/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Above is a picture of some of the men protesting at the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing.  Yes, you do see machine guns.

Michigan mayor Gretchen Whitmer will not open the state to business yet and continues to stand behind her stay-at-home order in the midst of the protesters call to “lock her up.” Whitmer is trying to save lives. But some people in Michigan believe that their rights are more important. They seem to be defending their “right” to die from the coronavirus.

I am guessing many of these protesters would say that they are Christians. But Christian faith teaches that we must submit our own interests–as a mark of our kindness and love of neighbor–with the needs and suffering of others. Jesus is our model here.

As I have written before, there is also a secular political tradition–it is called civic humanism–which calls the citizens of a republic to occasionally sacrifice self-interest for the public good. The founding fathers of the United States, many of whom wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, called this “virtue.”

It does not look like the protesting crowds are very large. Most residents of Michigan appear to be obeying Whitmer’s order. But what if such protests degenerate into a riot? What if these men with guns stormed the Capitol building or tried to depose the governor by force? It would seem at a moment like this, Whitmer (or any governor for that matter) might need military help from the federal government to protect her. Would she get such help from a U.S. president who is encouraging the protesters?:

Trump is not just encouraging protests in Michigan. In Virginia, he is connecting his call to protest with guns:

And let’s not forget the political angle here. Whitmer is a Democrat. Michigan is a battleground state that Trump desperately needs to win in November.

There is also an anti-intellectual/anti-science dimension to these protests. Andrew Sullivan’s captures this well in a tweet covering protests in Texas:

Yes, you heard them correctly. They are chanting “Fire Fauci”–a reference to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the lead scientist on the White House coronavirus task force.

Whitmer deserves our support and prayers right now. So do all of the governors–Democrat and Republican– trying to lead their states in this time of crisis. Most of them are trying to save lives.

As for the protesters, they also need our prayers.  Father forgive them.

And where are all of Trump’s evangelical supporters? Trump has announced he will be watching the church service tomorrow at Rev. Jack Graham‘s Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas:

I am not a fan of politics in the pulpit. But sometimes the church must speak out–either directly or indirectly–against a President who is fomenting armed rebellion. (These court evangelicals seem to love Romans 13. Does it apply to governors as well?). Jack Graham has the ear and eyes of the president tomorrow morning. How will he respond?

ADDENDUM (Sunday, April 19, 2020 at 1:15pm):  Apparently some folks are upset because I have said that these men are carrying machine guns.  I apologize for the confusion.  They look like machine guns to me, but I don’t know anything about guns.  But those who are criticizing me for getting the model of gun wrong are missing the point.

Back in the Zoo: Coronavirus Diary

IMG_20200413_201621598

The sunsets have been particularly beautiful here since quarantine started. Perhaps I’m just noticing them more now, or perhaps God knows I often need to be reminded how capable he is of turning darkness into light.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie shares some thoughts from her coronavirus diary–JF

If I have a history classroom of my own in a few years, I’m sure I will teach my students about the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. For while the virus is consuming virtually every part of our lives right now, soon enough it will be a part of our history. Soon enough students, teachers, and historians will look back on our Facebook posts, television advertisements, and journals to speculate what it was like to live through it all. I’ve started collecting primary sources to use in my classroom someday, and have even written a few diary entries of my own. If you would like to help future historians, future history teachers, and future students, I suggest keeping a journal, a diary, anything that will help them step into your shoes and see the world through your eyes.

Professor Fea has posted a couple coronavirus diary entries, so I thought I’d give it a go. Here’s my diary entry from yesterday, April 14, 2020:

It’s been a little over three weeks since Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued her shelter-in-place order for the state of Michigan. I’m becoming numb to it all in some ways, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I used to obsessively check Michigan’s case count multiple times a day, my anxiety heightening as the virus crept closer and closer to my hometown. Three weeks ago, 200 new cases in a day caused a panic. Last week there were 200 deaths in one day in my state and I kind of just numbly accepted that this is the way the world is right now.

I’ve been trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, as much as I can during this strange time. I get up at 6 A.M. and go to sleep around 10 P.M., just like I did when I was still at Messiah College. Before my first Zoom session of the day I try to do an hour and a half or so of work for this job. All of my Professors have been using video chat instead of pre-recorded lectures, so my class schedule has stayed pretty much the same too. My boyfriend and I still Skype every Friday and Sunday, just like we do when we’re nine hours apart. I can’t say all couples are listening to social distancing guidelines right now, but the ones that are have certainly been facing new challenges they never thought they would have to deal with. Nolan and I are frustrated we can’t see each other, but we realize that over a year of long-distance has left us surprisingly prepared to face a global pandemic.

A few new habits have made their way into my life too. My family has started “supporting local businesses”–that is, ordering takeout from local restaurants–once a week on Saturdays. Since I no longer have access to a gym, I’ve started running outside instead of on the treadmill. It’s more challenging to run on hills and in all kinds of weather, rather than on a flat conveyor belt in the temperate climate of the Falcon Fitness Center, but running is especially comforting for me right now. It reminds me that every breath is a gift, and to be thankful that I have healthy lungs with air flowing through them. I’m also trying to text people more often, usually with a song, a few words of encouragement, or a couple verses from scripture. It isn’t much, but I know from personal experience that a simple check-in or a few positive words can go a long way.

Quarantine brings out the creativity in all of us. We pick up new hobbies, and come back to old ones. We discover new ways to keep in touch with our friends, even when we can’t be physically together. My Young Life team has found several creative ways to use Zoom in order to stay connected with our students. We had a scavenger hunt, a talent show, an area-wide trivia match, and we’re even in the process of planning a virtual Bingo tournament for next week. Last weekend my parents tried to find a way to play Euchre over video chat with my brother and his girlfriend. I see families building blanket forts, hosting movie marathons, and competing in kahoot tournaments. And not only that, musicians have been giving free, live concerts over social media, churches are streaming their worship services, and Tom Hanks even hosted Saturday Night Live from his home last weekend.

For the first time in several weeks, it seems like there might be an end in sight. Some speculate that the United States has passed the virus’s peak. Gretchen Whitmer cautiously told Michiganders yesterday that they’re starting to see the curve flatten and the case total stabilize. We don’t know when the end to all this will come, or even what an “end” would entail, but we sense that it’s there somewhere. My family and I are continuing to press into the Lord, to continuously remind ourselves that He is in control and somehow, some way will use it all for His glory. So now we wait, in this period of forced rest, for the world to go back to normal. What that “normal” will be, I’m still not so sure.

Back in the Zoo: The Hidden History of Battle Creek

ellen white at gc session 1901

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie writes about finding history in her own backyard.  –JF

Rumor has it, if you walk around in downtown Battle Creek you can smell cereal wafting through the streets. Home to Kellogg’s, Post, and Raltson foods, Battle Creek well-deserves the nickname “Cereal City.”  Battle Creek is also home to Binder Park Zoo, where you can feed giraffes pieces of lettuce in the summer or go trick-or-treating at the annual “Zoo Boo” in the fall. It also has my favorite grocery store, Horrocks, and an indoor water park where kids used to have their birthday parties.

I usually don’t advertise that I’m from Battle Creek. In fact, in the very name I chose for this column, I pledge my allegiance to Kalamazoo, not “Cereal City,” which lies about 25 miles to the east. In reality, I live in Augusta which is half-way between the two towns. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Battle Creek. My church, my school, my grandma’s house were all in Kalamazoo, so I just have a lot more memories there. And, after a year studying at Messiah College I’ve discovered most people haven’t heard of Battle Creek, much less know where it is. Plus, you have to admit that “Out of Battle Creek” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So, as you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when Battle Creek came up in my “Origins Controversy” class last Friday. It was my first Zoom session of the day, and my professor Dr. Ted Davis was lecturing on the history of scientific creationism. A few slides into his presentation, Dr. Davis introduced us to Ellen G. White, who co-founded the Seventh-day Adventist church and was one of the first to vocally advocate for the young-earth, 24-hour day creation view held by Ken Ham and his team at Answers in Genesis today. While her ideas didn’t really take off outside Seventh-day Adventist circles until George McCready Price and later Henry Morris wrote about them, she remains an important figure in American religious history. Not only that, she was a strong and influential female leader in a time when women still hadn’t gained the right to vote. 

Next,  Professor Davis showed us the black-and-white photograph reciprocated above, of E. G. White at a podium, Bible open, speaking to a congregation of men. He asked us to read the description to find out where it was taken. Much to my surprise, the caption read “Battle Creek Tabernacle,” and I excitedly told my class that Battle Creek was only 30 minutes away from my house. Professor Davis continued by explaining that Battle Creek played an important role in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church, and that the denomination had even founded a college in Michigan. Davis went on to mention that the Kelloggs were also Seventh-day Adventists who first produced cereal as a vegetarian alternative to a traditional breakfast–many Adventists back then chose not to eat meat. 

I finished class that day excited about all the history that took place practically in my backyard. I couldn’t believe that I had grown up twelve miles from Battle Creek and had no idea who Ellen G. White was. My house is even closer to the Kellogg Manor House, yet I had never bothered to learn much about the family’s history. I was blind to the rich history my community had to offer. 

Every community, big or small, has a history. It has a history because it has people–people who lived and worked and impacted other people in a world far different from our own. Sometimes that history is not easy to find, but I challenge you to look for it. You don’t have to live in Gettysburg or New York City or Paris to dig up some fascinating information about your community’s past. There’s history all around you. Sometimes you just need to open your eyes.

Michigan Governor: Medical vendors are “being told not to send stuff to Michigan”

Whitmer

If Whitmer is right, and I have no reason to believe that she is not right, this is immoral.

Here is WWJ News (Detroit):

After President Donald Trump issued scathing comments about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying she’s “not stepping up,” and “doesn’t know what’s going on,” she told WWJ 950 the state is having trouble getting the equipment they need to fight the novel coronavirus.

“What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we’ve procured contracts — They’re being told not to send stuff to Michigan,” Whitmer said live on air. “It’s really concerning, I reached out to the White House last night and asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time this stuff was going on.”

The other stuff was Trump speaking with Sean Hannity on FOX News about Whitmer, a Democrat who has said very pointed things about the federal government’s lack of coordinated response to the coronavirus crisis. Trump said of Whitmer, “She is a new governor, and it’s not been pleasant … “We’ve had a big problem with the young — a woman governor. You know who I’m talking about — from Michigan. We don’t like to see the complaints.” 

Michigan’s request for disaster assistance has not yet been approved by the White House, and Trump told Hannity he’s still weighing it.

“She doesn’t get it done, and we send her a lot. Now, she wants a declaration of emergency, and, you know, we’ll have to make a decision on that. But Michigan is a very important state. I love the people of Michigan.”

In her public addresses closing schools, bars and restaurants, and issuing a shelter in place order, Whitmer has complained about the federal’s government lack of organization and state assistance, but she told WWJ she has never personally attacked the president.

“It’s very distressing,” she said about Trump’s attack, noting that she was only one of several governors who noted “the federal preparation was concerning.”

But she apparently struck a nerve with the president. And now the question is whether the leader of the free world could possibly take it out on medical professionals, patients and communities who desperately need help.

“I’ve been uniquely singled out,” Whitmer said. “I don’t go into personal attacks, I don’t have time for that, I don’t have energy for that, frankly. All of our focus has to be on COVID-19.”

Read the rest here.

Out of the Zoo: “A Perfect Fit”

Kalamazoo to mechan

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie talks about matters familiar to the readers of this blog. 🙂  –JF

I spent the first 18 years of my life in the same small town near Kalamazoo, Michigan. For 18 years I lived in the same old white farmhouse, climbing the same trees and sledding down the same steep hill in my backyard. For thirteen years I went to the same school district, graduating with many of the kids that were in my kindergarten class. My family switched churches a few times while I was growing up, but I was always surrounded by the same community of believers that helped raise, support and mentor my triplet siblings and I from the day we were born to the day we moved off to college. “It takes a village,” my Mom would always say. 

You can probably imagine that leaving my “village” and moving nine hours away to Messiah wasn’t easy. During my first few months at school I constantly caught myself thinking about home, sometimes to the point that it was hard to focus on schoolwork. As time passed it got easier, and I got used to life away from my family and friends back in Michigan. I learned to talk  about my feelings instead of bottling them up inside, and more importantly to trust the Lord when I was struggling. Even so, homesickness remained a familiar affliction for quite some time.

Homesickness was also a familiar feeling for Philip Vickers Fithian, the eighteenth century protagonist of The Way of Improvement Leads Home. This past week my “Age of Hamilton” class read Professor Fea’s essay that inspired the book. We read about Fithian’s life–his upbringing in rural New Jersey, the education he received at Princeton and his experience tutoring in Virginia, as well as his return to Cohansey. In class we compared his coming-of-age story with Alexander Hamilton’s, and discussed their shared desire to rise up and better themselves. However we also learned that Fithian, unlike Hamilton, was constantly burdened by homesickness–whether he was studying at Princeton, tutoring in Virginia, or performing duties elsewhere. While I am not a student at Princeton, nor do I live in the 1700s, I did find Fithian’s story to be strikingly similar to my own.

As historians, our task is to step into the shoes of the people we study–to empathize with their struggles and see the world through their eyes. Sometimes this proves a more difficult task than we expect. We get discouraged and find ourselves, like Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters, trying to jam our toes into glass slippers that are far too small. Or perhaps more frequently the shoes fit, but we find them uncomfortable or unfashionable and toss them aside.

Other times though, the historical narrative makes this an easy task. Instead of laboriously trying to squeeze our feet into a pair of slippers, we find they’re a perfect fit. When I read Professor Fea’s essay on Fithian, I felt like I could have been reading an excerpt from my own biography.  I read about how Fithian missed “hearing good Mr. Hunter preach,” (478) and was reminded of how hard it was for me to be away from home last Easter. Fithian wrote about missing Elizabeth Beatty and I thought about my own long distance relationship that began a few months after moving to school. Fithian would set aside his studies to look out the window towards home, just like I would swipe through old pictures from Michigan when I felt homesick. When I read about Fithian, I knew exactly what he was going through. I found it easier to step into his shoes not because I’m academically skilled or an expert historian, but because I’ve worn them myself.

Michigan GOP Congressman: Impeach Trump

Amash

On the final evening of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump came to Grand Rapids, Michigan to rally the faithful.  The next day he won Michigan, a state (along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) that carried him to the presidency.

Today Grand Rapids’s GOP congressman, libertarian Justin Amash, called for Trump’s impeachment.  Read Amash’s entire Twitter thread here.

Interesting notes:  Amash’s father is a Palestinian Christian and his mother is a Syrian Christian.  He was the valedictorian at Grand Rapids Christian High School–a school founded by the Christian Reformed Church. His wife Kara is a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  He is a member of an Orthodox church.

Out of the Zoo: “Irene”

Annie and Irene

I interviewed Irene Stearns my junior year as part of a National History Day project on the Kalamazoo Gals. Irene worked at the Gibson guitar factory during WWWII coiling strings.

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she writes about her friendship with one of the “Kalamazoo Gals.”  Enjoy! –JF

If you’re from Michigan like me, or perhaps you’re a guitar aficionado, you may have wandered down Parson’s Street in downtown Kalamazoo to a run-down factory that used to house Gibson Inc. Even though Gibson no longer resides in my hometown, the instrument making will remain part of its history for many years to come.

Perhaps one of the most special eras of Gibson’s history lives on through Irene Stearns. Irene coiled guitar strings for Gibson in the 1940s;  she worked alongside numerous other women who the company hired during World War II. Aptly nicknamed “Kalamazoo Gals” by author John Thomas for Glenn Miller’s song “I’ve got a Gal in Kalamazoo,” these women received high praise for their quality work.  “Banner Gibsons,” which were crafted by these female luthiers during the war years, are some of the most valuable (and arguably some of the best sounding) Gibson instruments to date. The Kalamazoo Gals are often commended for their courage and hard work, alongside thousands of other women who helped fill the “arsenal of democracy” during WWII. We thank them for opening doors for women in the workforce and praise them for opposing the traditional roles women were expected to play back then. We learn about these women who worked during WWII and even paint them as revolutionaries.

I got the privilege to befriend Irene two years ago when I was compiling research for an exhibit about the Kalamazoo Gals. We spoke extensively about her work at Gibson and it didn’t take me long to realize that she saw herself as anything but revolutionary. Irene worked at Gibson not because she wanted to open doors for women of future generations, or even because she wanted to be remembered as a courageous Rosie-the-Riveter. She worked simply because she didn’t like her old job and wanted a new one. She never thought her story would make the history books–she was just going to work, doing what she had to do to earn little money. She never once thought she would receive any kind of recognition or praise.

We can learn a lot from people like Irene. The extensive human narrative we call history is filled with ordinary characters who never expected to be remembered. The parts of their lives that we find fascinating, or inspirational even, they saw as normal. It often makes me wonder: Which ordinary actions I take today could be seen as extraordinary tomorrow? How will my steps here and now affect the ones future generations will be able to take in the future?

I don’t know the answer to these questions; I probably never will. However I do know from Irene’s story that the little things matter. The way I work, the way I meet challenges and take opportunities will contribute to the way I am remembered. It’s impossible for me to know what future historians will think when they look back on my story–but I want them to see that I did what I could to make it the best one I could write.

A White Teacher is Removed from Teaching a Michigan High School Course in African-American History

Groves
Recently an African-American staff writer at the Bridge Magazine in Michigan wrote an opinion piece criticizing an African-American history course at Groves High School in Birmingham, Michigan.  Chastity Pratt Dawsey was not happy that her children, who were enrolled in the course, were required to watch movies such, Boyz in the Hood and Do the Right Thing, view the documentary “Inside Bloods and Crips,” and read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Dawsey was especially upset that the course, taught by a white teacher, did not give enough attention to the accomplishments of African Americans.

Dawsey posted the syllabus from Scott Craig‘s African-American history course.  I think she thought that by posting the syllabus it would strengthen her argument.  In my view, the syllabus actually reveals that Craig is a very good history teacher.  The syllabus includes readings from Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Howard Zinn, Martin Luther King Jr., Winthrop Jordan, Ulrich Philips, Kenneth Stamp, and Marcus Garvey.  Craig’s list of movies include Amistad12 Years a Slave, and Glory.

The syllabus also notes:

Students will be exposed to readings and films that have distinct points of view.  One skill we will work on is recognizing and evaluating point of view.  Some of the readings will contradict each other, and students will have to wrestle with differentiating and deciding which POV is most value…

The course covers the following topics: police brutality and African Americans, the success and failure of Affirmative Action, white flight, poverty and racism, the 1967 Detroit riot, the successes of the black middle class, African American political leadership, De Jure v. De Facto racism, segregation and resegregation, gangs and gang culture, and cultural appropriation.

Sounds like a great class.  Can I take it?

But the story does not end here.  The superintendent of Birmingham Public Schools apologized to parents for permitting this course to be taught.  He apologized because the “resources listed in the course pilot syllabus failed to meet the depth and breadth of African American history.”  That is actually the only thing the letter says about the content of the course.  Apparently many in Birmingham’s African-American community believe that an African-American should be teaching the course.

And now Scott Craig, the teacher of this course, has weighed in. Craig has been teaching social studies in Michigan for thirty-two years and appears to be very popular among students.  In 2013, he ran for a spot in the Michigan state house as a Democrat. In August 2017, he was Birmingham’s delegate to a National Association of Education Conference on the subject of equity and integrity in education. In 2018 he marched, on behalf of his students, in a “March for Our Lives” rally against gun violence.  He has an M.A. in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University.   We should also add that he designed the African-American history course in question because he thought African-American history was not getting a fair shake in his school district.

Here is a taste of his piece: “I am the Michigan teacher removed from teaching African-American History.”

While the original article may leave readers with the impression that some random white guy was assigned to teach the African-American course, I created the course out of a deep commitment to civil rights and ending prejudice. I come from a family where both parents were involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. I have a master’s degree in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University. And I’ve been a participant in nearly every district initiative around issues of race and diversity. I’m the sponsor of the Diversity Club (25 years) at neighboring Seaholm High that organizes school exchanges and provides a forum for open discussion. I’ve also organized 12 of our past 15 MLK Day assemblies at Seaholm.

I created the course because I saw a need. American history texts hardly mention African Americans from Reconstruction until Rosa Parks. Then, they drop most discussion about African Americans after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. They also gloss over the rich debate and controversies within the African-American community as they faced over 100 years of second-class citizenship after Reconstruction. Most white students in Birmingham have little understanding about the real history and conditions faced by African Americans. Many of our black students are truly interested in learning more about their history.

Both the Bridge column and the superintendent’s letter to the staff and community portrayed the course as shallow, inappropriate and as somehow avoiding proper review. This was not the case.  

In 2015, I researched existing African-American history syllabi, mostly taught in colleges. I examined and selected the best, most challenging readings ‒ such as works by Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois ‒ and chose films that reflected a variety of points of view.  

The course was reviewed and approved in 2015 by my principal, department head, and our district Education Council that included three or four African-American parents. Approval was unanimous and widely praised, especially by the African-American parents on the Council. The course was reviewed again and I created a longer curriculum guide in the summer of 2018. The administrators who reviewed it also offered praise.

While my name was not used in Bridge or in the letter, within days hundreds of staff and community members figured out I was the teacher. I decided to speak openly in defense at a district board meeting Feb. 26, especially when I learned members of BAAFN, the parent group protesting my class, would be speaking.

At the meeting, I listened as the head of the parent group argued for a revamped curriculum approved by the parents, and a black teacher to teach this course. By the time I spoke, 35 to 40 district teachers had contacted me. All of them offered support, and most of them expressed the fear that they could be next.

As I was leaving, I was stopped individually by five African Americans. One was a district teacher who expressed strong support and said he wanted to speak, but his wife told him he could not risk his job. Others were parents. One said she did not know who I was or my background at the time that I was dismissed from teaching the class. The district had not offered much explanation. Another parent said her son was in my class, liked it, and that about a dozen students talked about staging a sit-in at the principal’s office demanding to know why their teacher had been removed.

Read the entire article here.  What is going on here?

Are Dutch-Americans “The Most Conservative Americans?”

Coldbrook-crc

As some of you know, I have been making regular visits to Grand Rapids, Michigan these days.  (If you don’t know why you haven’t been reading this blog regularly enough.  Shame on you!  :-))  I have thus had an opportunity to learn more about the Dutch Calvinist culture that permeates much of Western Michigan.

So when my friend “Buffalo” Doug Anderson called my attention to Michael Douma’s recent blog post, I was intrigued.  Douma is a historian of the Dutch in America and the author of brand new book on historical thinking.  Here is a taste of his piece, “‘The Most Conservative Americans’?“:

An article in the The Economist titled “Why are Dutch-Americans so different from the Dutch?”  lumps together all Dutch Americans, by which it means a few Michigan politicians and the residents of the city of Holland, Michigan, to explain why they are such backward conservatives.  The article’s subtitle betrays the game the author wants to play: “The most conservative Americans, the most liberal Europeans.”

By what measure, I ask, are Dutch Americans the most conservative Americans?   Perhaps the author is not aware of Orthodox Jews or the Amish, or the average Southern or Midwestern evangelical, who, culturally, is likely to be more conservative than the Average Dutch American.

At any rate, to explain why Dutch Americans are so conservative, the author interviewed Dr. Robert Swierenga, recognized authority on Dutch Americans, resident of Holland, Michigan, and author of a three-volume history of Holland, Michigan. Oh my mistake.  They didn’t interview Dr. Swierenga, or any other of the dozens of historians who have written books on Dutch American history. No, to learn more about the topic The Economist interviewed Jay Peters, local Democratic politician and failed mayoral candidate.

Peters’ response is full of hyperbole.  “The people who left the Netherlands were some of the most conservative Dutch-speaking people on the planet.”  Well, since most of the Dutch-speaking people on the planet were in the Netherlands, this is hardly a surprise. Then again, it’s not even entirely true.  The Dutch-speaking Boers of South Africa, the colonial administrators of the Netherlands East Indies, the slave-holding plantation owners in Dutch Suriname were all in a variety of ways more conservative than the backwater peasants from the Netherlands who emigrated to the United States.

Read the rest here.

Two Rural Michigan Villages Are Producing An Inordinate Number of Catholic Priests

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Westphalia, MI

The New York Times website is running a human interest story about two towns in rural Clinton County, Michigan that are home to an unusually large number of young men pursuing the Catholic priesthood.  These towns–Fowler and Westphalia–have produced 44 priests.  Did I mention that Fowler has a population of 1224 and Westphalia has a population of 938?   This, of course, is especially noteworthy in light of the drastic decline in young Catholic men pursuing the priesthood.  

Here is a taste of Christina Capecchi’s article at the Times:

The houses in these two villages eight miles apart in Central Michigan are orderly, with Virgin Mary statues in front yards, American flags on front porches and unlocked front doors. Faith is the center of life, those who live here say: Everyone is Catholic, everyone is related and everyone shows up at Mass. The youth groups are active. Nearly all the students attending the prom in the villages begin the festivities by attending a regularly scheduled 4:30 p.m. Mass, dressed in their party attire.

The only grade school in Westphalia is a Catholic one, and the only place of worship is a Catholic church, St. Mary’s, pictured in the city logo alongside the water tower.

“It seems like culture takes a little longer to catch up out here in the sticks,” said Vernon Thelen, who serves as president of Fowler, the equivalent of a mayor, and attends morning Mass several times a week. “When I say culture, I mean some of the bad culture you see on sitcoms and TV.”