Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Friday, September 29, 2006

LBJ Research Trip

I have been in such a rush since early August, I have not been able to tell anyone much about my trip to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, TX.

I received a research grant from the library to work on a project concerning the partnership between Dean Acheson and Lyndon Johnson to push for the adoption of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. I also have plans to work on a broader piece about the relationship between Johnson and Acheson that spanned from LBJ’s defense of Acheson during the Korean War to Acheson’s advice to Johnson as one of the “Wise Men” during the Vietnam War.

The Johnson library is a great place to work. The archivists know their collection very well and are also very helpful, which are two important factors that don’t always exist in the same individual archivist. The building itself is rather grandiose, much like Johnson himself.

Unfortunately, I found that Johnson’s Senate papers are not as helpful as his presidential papers. The Senate papers lack the thoroughness and organization that characterize the presidential papers. This was to be expected, to some extent, because a president has a much larger staff responsible for producing and collecting more documentation, studies, opinions, letters, etc. I did find some useful material, especially in the memos of some of Johnson’s staffers, like George Reedy. Johnson would sometimes take one of Reedy’s well-argued and well-written memos and pass it off as his own opinion.

One thing that struck me is how precarious Johnson’s position in Texas was. There are file boxes full of letters from his constituents and they contain an enormous amount of racist venom. For example:

Sept. 21, 1957

Letter from Dr. Paul Herschell Power
A physician of “diseases of the skin” in Waco, TX

Dear Senator Johnson:

“…Of course we despise that little president more than anyone else in the world because it was due to his appointment of that socio-communist, [Earl] Warren, as chief justice. That is he causing us all of the trouble we are having today.
You will notice where they have demanded that the governor in Little Rock let the negroes in the Central High School. I do not believe they will ever enter that school.
I wish for that little president that every one of his grandchildren marries the blackest, greasiest negroes in the country. Also that dear Warren’s little golden-haired daughter marries a black negro.
Of course we people of Texas like the negroes and treat them right but we do not want to sleep or eat with them.
… It is very good news to your supporters that you do believe in that Man upstairs with all your heart and I feel that you and I are both, since coming through our very serious, recent illnesses owe him more thanks than ever.

Paul Power, MD

And this from the Rev. Paul J. McLain from Nacogdoches, Feb. 12, 1957.

“May I urge you to use every possible means at your disposal to defeat the “Divil Rights Bill.” Your constituents in Texas feel this legislation is a very vital issue and must be defeated. We are counting on you for your usual fine efforts on our behalf. Very sincerely yours…”

B.E. Masters, President Emeritus of the college at Kilgore, TX
Feb. 8, 1957

“If this bill passes, it will be the worst thing that has happened to the South since Reconstruction Days. Our hopes of retaining segregation would be dimmed and there would result unhappy people with likely violence. We are depending on you at this critical period and if you succeed, the great majority of the voters of Texas will have lasting gratitude to you.”

As the developments proceeded the letters became more hostile.

“I beg you to stand and fight like a man” wrote John Adger Manning of Manning & Manning Real Estate, Columbia, SC

In the boxes that I waded through of correspondence about the issue, there were very few letters in favor of civil rights legislation. While ministers were on both sides of the issue (as they were about slavery a century earlier), a few very strong letters of support for civil rights were written by ministers and by labor unions. Given this heavy hostility, it is remarkable that Johnson moved on civil rights. It helps explain how during this period Johnson danced back and forth and found middle ways when possible. It does not seem to have anything to do with his own conviction about the injustices that existed. It had everything to do with his constituency. After all, he could accomplish nothing if he was voted out of office.
Years later when he succeeded in passing the civil rights legislation in the 1960s, no one, it seems, could know the truth of his words more than he did – that the South had been lost to the Republican Party for a generation for ending segregation. The only thing he seems to have underestimated is how long the civil rights legislation would put the South in the hands of the Republicans.
Another interesting thing at the Johnson library was the prevalence of digital cameras. In my research trips over the last couple of years at various archives, they have been prevalent but this summer at the Johnson they were the dominant form of recording the documents. Nearly every researcher had a camera. In fact, I had bought a camera in large part for this purpose. However, I discovered that the library had purchased a couple of cameras and mounted them on tables ready to use. More than than, they had a process prepared to burn the photographed documents on to CDs. More over, all of this was free! The archivists explained to me that this cameras had been set up a year ago on a trial basis at the library. However, the process has worked out so well that it may be adopted by the other presidential library, like the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy.
While there will be a nominal fee established for the service, it will be far cheaper than the expensive photocopies that we historians have had to invest in over the years. More important, the digital process is easier on the documents. They do not have to be twisted over a photocopy machine, staples more rarely will have to be removed, and (because the flash does not go off) there is no exposure to high intensity light.
The only downside of the trip to Austin was the weather. It was beastly hot, over 100 degrees every day. If you could stay out of the direct sunlight, it was not too bad, but I found there were far too few trees in Austin. In the shadows, it was not worse that a day in Cincy with 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity but in the sunshine it felt dangerous. Although I did rent a car and drive to Dallas-Fort Worth to see my good friends Pete and Mona and their beautiful new daughter, the heat did limit my exploration of Austin somewhat. Too bad. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Views of Bremen

Taking photos on the trip to Bremen was kind of a challenge. It was a bright and sunny day but the sun was at a difficult angle making long and deep shadows. Things would have photographed better on a grey day and I'm sure to have plenty of those later on in northern Germany. At the top is a photograph of the central square. Lots of people and streetcars add to a great atmosphere here. Off to the left of the top photo a couple small and narrow streets lead down to the river where boats would sail to the ocean and other cities during Hanseatic times. In the nineteenth century the river began to silt up and the harbor was moved down river and the city of Bremerhaven was founded.

In the middle photo is the Rathaus or city hall of Bremen. During the cold war, Bremen was American territory in the midst of the British occupation zone. The US needed a port for its activities and chose Bremen. Our tour guide, Jurgen, noted that although he is often opposed to President Bush's foreign policies, Bremen was very pleased to have been part of the American occupation since the Americans had money to spend and were very generous. He noted that a lot of American private money went into recontruction of central Bremen.

At the bottom is Jurgen pointing to mosaics on the wall of the crypt on one of the old churches in Bremen, a city that was important during the middle ages as the seat of a bishop..

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bremen fair city

Last weekend, we went to Bremen on a group trip. It was well orchestrated by USAC and International Studies Program staffers.

The train trip was interesting because of some of the beautiful country between Luneburg and Bremen. Some fine fameland as well as some forested areas. The train was a fast one and must have been doing near 100 mph in places.

Bremen was a leading Hanseatic city during the middle ages and it really shows in the beautiful old city. In the nineteenth century, the river had silted up and the harbor had to be relocated downriver at Bremerhaven. But the old city was left intact.

A city guide led those of us whose German is too poor on an English-language walking tour. The others went on a German tour. Jurgen, our guide, was a bit of a character and made some subtle political comments along the way. He noted, for example, that the Germans bombed Britain first during WW II. "That is something you should remember - when you send bombs somewhere eventually they come back. Ask us. We know!" Only a couple of buildings in the old city were still standing at the end of the World War II bombing attacks. Bremen made a decision to rebuild the city as it once looked. Many bits and pieces of buildings were resurrected. Some facades were preserved intact while the buildings were burnt out. Some pieces of facades that were on one building are now on other buildings.. The Rathaus, which you can see in the photos, was still standing at the end.

Bremen's position as an important seat for a bishop added to its prominence. The oldest church in Bremen, Our Holy Lady, is nearly 1,000 years old and we were taken into the crypt of the church. You can see one of the photos of Jurgen talking about the murals that are still visible. He noted that people took refuge in the crypt from the Vikings and from the Allied bombing raids.

They center of the old city is very striking and has streetcars running through it. I will provide several photos of the center area of the alt city. Narrow medieval streets run off in all directions. Some of us went on a river trip. It was very industrial, quite a break from medieval Bremen. There were a lot of containers and a huge Kelloggs cereal plant that employed over 900 people. Even a rocket on a launchpad at a facility of the European Space Agency.

I had about an hour of free time to myself and walked along the river where there were a lot of people selling things at a kind of flea market. Then walking down one of the narrow streets, I had a quiet beer in the friendly confines of the Havana Club.

Monday, September 25, 2006

An International Lunch

On sunny Sunday afternoon, I stopped at the sidewalk tables of a Turkish cafe in Luneburg. A few minutes later, Misaki, a young Japanese man who is also studying German here, happened by and sat down to talk.

So here I was: A mostly Irish-American male, eating at a Turkish restaurant in Germany with a guy from Japan, speaking English, and soon we were going over this week's German vocabulary list.

Worth the trip, I think.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Views of Luneburg

Here are several photos I am posting to get some practice at this. They are all of Luneburg. At the top a shot of the Saturday morning market in front of the Rayhaus. This is really a great event that also occurs on Saturday. The Rathaus is a really great building, too, so I will have some better photos of it in the future. The others are of Am Sande, one of the main squares, on a rainy morning and then during som better weather.. At bottom is a shot of Am Sande on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

US Store??

Something I neglected to mention about Luneburg earlier is that there is a shop called "US Store." Do they sell the best of American products there? Noooo. The store's chief products are air guns, camouflage, flags, knives, and other kinds of military-style products.

I am not certain what to make of this exactly but it does appear that at least to a certain part of the German population America is synonymous with warlike images and lifestyle. I wonder if that has become our most recognizable export?

Of course, movies are probably the most obvious export here. I have cable TV at my apartment. Many American television shows are on the German networks - CSI, Cold Case, Law and Order, even the Simpsons, and some older ones like Little House on the Prairie. They are all dubbed in German so are a challenge for me to figure out. No CNN, unfortunately, but in the mornings before 10 a.m., CNBC Europe is on in English so I often watch that and then there is, of course, MTV.

Finally, as I sit here in the university cafeteria with some of our students there is a break-dance demonstration/competition going on on the soccer field outside. Lots of German kids from local grade schools breaking some moves. The American students around me are providing some commentary about the relative skills of the German breakers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A word about Luneburg

Although I knew nothing about it before, I feel fortunate to have landed Luneburg as an assignment with USAC. It is a an interesting and beautiful and relatively small town.

The big driving force in the community seems to be the university and its roughly 10,000 students scattered across three campuses. There are lots of international students – our 50 or so Americans, another 60 or 70 who have arrived with the Erasmus program that come from many different countries, including the US. And there are others involved in other programs. Right now, as I write in the Mensa or dining room, there is a table of Americans nearby who I can hear talking who seem to be faculty.

I am not exactly sure of population, about 70,000 perhaps, but the downtown old city area is very busy with pedestrians walking everywhere. On Saturdays, it is positively crowded, much unlike any American city I have experienced. You find loads of people just walking around for the pleasure of it.

The center or altstadt (old city) of Luneburg, with which I am most acquainted, is an area filled with centuries old buildings that have been continually refurbished while keeping their original appearance. I am going to figure out in coming weeks how to post photos on the blog. The buildings have that northern European look, that I have usually associated with the Netherlands, that include peaked facades. A key advantage Luneburg had in maintaining the integrity of the old city is that it was not bombed during WWII. While not being an important military target did not save some cities, it did work for Luneburg. But in the middle ages, it was an important economic center.

Luneburg’s medieval riches were built on the salt on which the city sits. And now parts of the city have subsidence problems, much like parts of Butte, Montana. With all the earth taken out from under the city, some of the buildings have sagged. There is one interesting old building that has a huge plate bolted to the side of it to keep it together. It is amazing how much brick will flex without breaking.

There are two main squares in the old town, Am Sande, which has a lot of businesses around it, and the square that is in front of the Rathaus or city hall. Am Sande is a bit more commercial but along streets leading out of both squares there are many businesses. One of the striking things about the town is large number of bars and restaurants in the old town. There are lots of great places with good German beer, some brew their own and there is a Luneburger Pilsner with which I have become familiar. Very tasty. The food, too, is good and I have been getting more daring ordering things. At first, it was the old reliables, pizza and pasta. There are, of course, fall back places, like the Subway and McDonald’s on Am Sande.

Luneburg was a Hanseatic city in the 1200s and 1300s and it thrived. The Hanseatic League was a consortium of north German and Baltic communities that joined together to control regional trade to their own advantages. Luneburg’s salt was a tremendously valuable commodity. The Elbe was used to transport the salt to Hamburg, another big Hanseatic city, and there to be shipped abroad. There is a small harbor in Luneburg where there is still a medieval crane that has been preserved that was used to load the ships. You can overlook the harbor from numerous sidewalk cafes today whereas in the middle ages it would have been a bustling little port.

I live at Wall Strasse 31, a small apartment building. It is called Wall Street because that is where the wall used to be. Today you can still walk a stretch of the wall for a distance of about two blocks but that is all that is left. Most of the homes and businesses in the old city are brick, another indication of the city’s past wealth.

I have found Luneburgers to be uniformly friendly and they have been helpful with my inability to speak German. The few phrases I am learning should make a difference. I also checked out the local Irish pub, The Old Dubliner (ironic since the Dubliner used to be the name of the Irish pub in my old neighborhood in Cincinnati). Max, a Belgian, the manager, is a very friendly character and regaled me of tales of his visit to San Francisco a few years ago

One of the great advantages of teaching the World War II class here is that we are going to have walking tour in a few weeks of "Luneburg under the Nazis," courtesy of the local historical society.

Another advantage of Luneburg is that it is close to Hamburg and a number of other interesting cities, including Lubeck and Bremen. We are going on a group trip to Bremen this Saturday. More about that famous Hanseatic city coming up!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cold War

I managed to acquire a cold over the last few days. Probably a combination of causes: Maybe not enough sleep in the last couple of weeks, too much time on airplanes, I have not had a good blast of 275 freeway exhaust in a while...

So I went off to a local Apotheke, or pharmacy. But it is different. More like the pharmacies I am more familiar with in England, they do not have rows and rows of shelves and you go pick out your own stuff. Instead, a pharmacist is there waiting to hear you tell them what your symptoms are.

The other day when I could feel this coming on, I stopped in one to get some vitamins. Got the vitamins (drop them in water and they fizz like alka seltzer) and had an interesting talk with a pharmacist who had relatives in Colorado and loved to go skiing there. This time, the same Apotheke but different pharmacist. She had been to many warm places in the US because of many relatives - Florida, S. California, S. Carolina, etc. She was very helpful, too, and quizzed me carefully about my symptoms. She provided me with nose spray, cough syrup, and some Claritin (I think this started as allergies). She did not know the brandname Claritin but looked it up and I recognized the generic name.

Now, a day later, I am feeling much better. I cannot read what the ingredients are in these bottles but they seem to work and that is important.

I am not certain exactly how far the Apotheke can go in terms of prescribing drugs - whether it is only over-the-counter items or more serious drugs. I will investigate and let you know.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Long March

On Saturday, our program director, Iris, and the part-time assistant, Soren, took us on a walking tour of Hamburg. It is a great city and one of that students compared it to San Francisco. I'm not sure that is what I felt about it but it is very vibrant, liberal, and multinational (if not multiracial). It has a lot of beautiful buildings. There is water everywhere with the River Elbe flowing through toward the sea and several canals that weave their way into the city. Some call Hamburg the Venice of the North.

Hamburg is a short train ride from Luneburg. We showed up at 10 a.m. and about 40 students dragged themselves out of bed for the trip. At the Hamburg station (a beautiful old building), we broke into two groups, each led by one of the program staffers. Then off we went in opposite directions.

We saw a lot of interesting things. There are numerous museums right around the train station and I will be sure to get back to see them.

One of the first things we saw were the ruins of St. Nickolai church. The church was at the center of very heavy bombing in 1943. Kurt Vonnegut centers his novel, Slaughterhouse 5, around this event. Over 43,000 civilians were killed in the firebombing attack. The church's tall steeple was used a landmark for the bombers. All that is left of the church are its steeple and portions of the surrounding walls. There are a number of little memorials around the site, including one to death camp victims and there are some hugh nails put in the form of a cross from an English church in Coventry, that was heavily bombed by the Germans. We took a ride up the steeple in an elevator to where there is an observation deck. Beutiful views of all the new post-war reconstruction and the port of Hamburg. It was a very moving place and I am going to return to see the museum. But Iris was keeping a schedule so off we went.

We walked down to the waterfront and took a break for lunch. Leaving the students to their own devices, Iris and I went to a Spanish restaurant for some tapas and a beer. Unfortunately, while the students had been asked to split up, they all descended on the same restaurant and it took forever for them to get their food.

When we finally got together again, we jumped on a large boat and went for trip up and down the Elbe. Hamburg is the largest port in Europe and you could really see that. Lots and lots of container shipping. There were places where large ships were being drydocked and repaired. And then we saw two American-style sternwheelers. The riverboats were called the Mississippi Queen and Louisiana Star. Naturally, there was a chorus of students providing the names in their faked heavy southern accents. None of them, as far as I can tell, are from the South.

Then we walked through the famous redlight district, St. Pauli, and yes that is where the beer, St. Pauli Girl gets its name. The Germans are very casual about this but our students were definitely intriguied. The area was espcially filled with people wearing the jerseys of two teams that were going to play football in a big game that event, the underdog St. Pauli team and the big shot Munich team. We walked near the stadium and there were lots of polizei.

We had a big meal at a pub/restaurant named September and then we took a short trip on the subway to the train station. The subway, incidentally, was pretty nice, more like Washington, DC's than like NYC's.

Tonight, we are having a tour called Luneburg at night. Should be interesting. Supposedly another 60 international students, a few of them Americans, have arrived at the university over the weekend. That should make things interesting.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Key problems.

One of the responsibilities that professors have here at Luneburg is to lock the classroom doors in the evening if you are the last class. That was my job last night after I finished the first meeting of my WWII course. I locked the door, walked out of the building, and crossed the street to the bus stop.

However, when I walked up to my apartment building door, I discovered I did not have my keys any more. The only place I could have left them was in the door. So back I went. Took me about 20 minutes by bus to get back. When I did, the door to the building was locked. Security officers do not have any obvious security presence here. I walked around and tried to doors on some of the other buildings thinking that there must be someone who would let me use their phone to call security.

No luck. All the buildings were locked. Finally, I saw a couple of students, and asked them for help - in English, of course. We talked a bit but they didn't know how to contact security either. They did suggest that there was usually a security guy in a building on the edge of campus. So I walked over there and sure enough the door was open.

The security officer was a thin old gentleman with a beard. He knew a bit of English. I was able to explain to him my problem and he was very helpful. He got his bike (everyone bikes here) and pedalled along beside me back to the building. Sure enough, the keys were still in the door. The security guy enjoyed my stuttering German: "Zooper (super). Danke, danke." And then when I was leaving, "Guten Abend (good evening)."

No buses run after 8 pm so I had about a half hour walk back to my apartment. Since I had started with my grueling German course at 9 a.m., it was a pleasure relax and watch CSI dubbed in German. I did not finish watching it before heading off to bed but I was sort of able to figure out what was going on.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I'm well situated in Luneburg and will be teaching just my second class this afternoon and the first for the WWII course. Before I tell much about Germany so far, let me catch every one up with my travels in Britain.

As usual, my cousin Tom planned a great outing and took a day off from work for the event. With two of his wife Monica's sisters in tow, we drove to Stonehenge and on to Salisbury Cathedral. It is a grand sight with its seemingly incredibly tall tower/steeple. Then it was on to Winchester and a walk through the old town center and around the Cathedral grounds. As some of you may know, Winchester was the seat of King Alfred one of the first reliably-recorded kings of England. From Winchester we drove on down to the south coast of England to the twon of Bournemouth. There is a beach there and some brave Brits were splashing around as though the water was not freezing cold. It was a beautiful and we sat out at a beach-side restaurant and beer and fish and chips. Very pleasant. We could see the Isle of Wight in the distance. It rained on the way back to Eddleston Manor.

The next day, a Wednesday, I went into London by myself, one of my favorite things to do. It is about a 40 minute train trade from Wokingham (the nearest train station) or about an hour on the train that stops everywhere. From London Waterloo, I took the tube to near Trafalgar Squar3e, hung out at the square and Picadilly Circus for a while, and then took in the National Portrait Gallery. After gazing at the visages of famous Brits (and some not so famous and some infamous), I took one of my favorite walks. It winds from Trafalgar square to Covent Garden and leads through some really fine pubs, many of them famous watering holes before there was a United States. Nevertheless, I returned early to Eddleston Manor so that I could get some sleep for the trip to Germany the next day.