Letters From the August 9/16, 2021, Issue

Letters From the August 9/16, 2021, Issue

Letters From the August 9/16, 2021, Issue

Calling Arizona… Black Main Street… Privileged information… The bronze ceiling (web only)…

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Calling Arizona

Sasha Abramsky’s article “Flipping Arizona” rightly highlights the hard work of the canvassers of Unite Here in flipping red Arizona blue in 2020 [June 28/July 5]. Also hardworking, and even more “unsung,” were the thousands of phone bank callers across the country who were not able to travel to Arizona during the pandemic but made hundreds of thousands of calls to the state’s voters. They followed with hundreds of thousands of calls to Georgia voters for the Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff Senate races. Another large group of stay-at-home volunteers penned hundreds of thousands of handwritten letters and postcards to Arizona and Georgia voters. These activists shouldn’t be forgotten.
Jenny White
berkeley, cal.

Black Main Street

It is a testament to The Nation’s long history of progressive journalism that it published in 1921 an on-the-spot account by Walter F. White of the racist massacre in Tulsa, Okla., now republished on your website and in print [“Tulsa’s ‘Stories of Horror,’” June 28/July 5]. But the decision by the editors to describe Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, which white rioters ravaged, as “Black Wall Street” perpetuates a now-common myth. While there were wealthy Black residents in Greenwood, its thriving commercial streets contained mainly small retail and service establishments, with not an investment house or corporate headquarters to be found, and most Black Tulsans worked for white employers.

The “Black Wall Street” phrase originated with Booker T. Washington (though he called it “Negro Wall Street”), who believed that Black uplift would come through manual labor and tradesmanship, rather than through demanding citizenship rights and access to professions. Calling Greenwood “Negro Wall Street” was an ideological term, not an objective description; it served to limit Black aspirations as much as to unleash them. The NAACP, which White would later lead, emerged in part to challenge Washington’s conservative model for Black progress, and White does not use the “Wall Street” label in his account.

Robert Shaffer
mechanicsburg, pa.

Privileged Information

Although I share David Bromwich’s defense of freedom of expression, I don’t believe that the First Amendment alone can save us from the hegemony of professional liars [“Censorship and the Good Life,” June 14/21]. The negative freedom from government censorship must be supplemented with the positive freedom to provide ourselves with reliably honest news. Our problem is that fake news is free, whereas real news costs money. Too many people get too much fake news.

Trying to filter out the fake news (i.e., censorship) won’t work if we don’t get enough real news. Indeed, our ability to recognize fake news depends on an accurate perspective of reality that we can get only from a steady diet of real news.

Eric Paul Jacobsen

The Bronze Ceiling

Re “The Problem With NYC’s New Women’s Rights Monument,” by Erin Thompson [August 25, 2020, online]: As cofounders of Monumental Women, we are gratified that our Central Park Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument honoring Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony is a centerpiece for major events in the political lives of women. This should encourage Erin Thompson, along with the self-anointed critics she cites, to recant. They deplore that ours is not an abstract but a “traditional” monument that would not spur women on to continue the fight. One even says no statue at all would be better, since women’s rights have been won “by millions of women” making monuments to individuals “a standing historic lie.”

Thompson’s article contains errors and questionable criticisms of the women’s suffrage movement. She asserts that Black activists were forced to walk in back in the 1913 suffrage march, but the April 1913 issue of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, reported “more than forty Black women proceeded in their state delegations or with their respective professions. Twenty-five…students from Howard University marched in cap and gown with the university women.” She is unhappy because “racial tensions between the activists” are not depicted. But Truth, Stanton, and Anthony were lifelong friends and political colleagues.

Thompson is also wrong in describing aspects of the statue as “[traditionally] feminine.” Truth had herself photographed knitting because slave women were not allowed to knit. Anthony’s bag contained the documents she carried crisscrossing the country giving speeches. Stanton sat at a spindly-legged table composing her brilliant rewrite of the Declaration of Independence to include women.

And what’s conservative about depicting women with unwrinkled faces, smooth hands, and perfect curls? Why the double standard? Has Thompson called Mount Rushmore’s four wrinkle-free male presidents “Glamour Shots in Granite”? Would she speculate about George Washington’s armpit hair?

Breaking the bronze ceiling in Central Park is a major achievement. It’s time for the cynics to stop their supercilious remarks and build up instead of tearing down.

Myriam Miedzian and Gary Ferdman

Thompson Replies

Readers interested in a fuller picture of racial tensions in feminist movements should consult Martha S. Jones’s Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. Those who wish to witness my cynicism about Mount Rushmore and George Washington’s body (including 19th-century depictions of a half-naked Washington, complete with six-pack abs) will have to await my forthcoming book, Smashing Statues: On the Rise and Fall of American Monuments (Norton, 2022).

Erin Thompson

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