Sunday, February 26, 2017

The question "What will this do to our community?" tends toward the right answer for the world - Wendell Berry

Wendall berry

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"If they don't like you, they'll cut off your project"- Huey Perry and how the government conspired to stop his anti-poverty community empowerment initiatives in West Virginia


In the aftermath of the ‘War on Poverty’ by President Lyndon Johnson, and his 'Poverty Tour’ referred to in this recent post, a young man in Mingo County, West Virginia (a county which was particularly Scotch-Irish in composition and outlook) called Huey Perry, pictured above, decided to get involved in helping his local community. (West Virginia is often said to be the most Scotch-Irish of all of the states. Here are some recent posts on the subject - on Governor William Alexander MacCorkle and also this general article).

The context of the initiative was described by Huey in this 1992 interview:

There was total political control over everything and it was a pattern that evolved and developed over a number of years where the local politicians felt that they had to control every aspect of the community and every aspect of people's lives. And, of course, this was an easy system for them 'cause it perpetuated them into office and kept them into office and so, even the welfare recipients, first would go to the county politicians to get themselves placed on the welfare roles. So, they felt that they had to do that first, although they qualified for the welfare system. They would use that passageway into it, and, of course, this pleased the politicians because they knew they had a voter. As long as they could control this person and make them think that they controlled them, then they were subservient to that system.

Well, Huey got organised but was a bit too successful. And so the government, threatened by the community empowerment he had achieved, and how people had become self-sufficient, pulled his program. And in 1972 Huey published the whole episode in his book They'll Cut Off Your Project: A Mingo County Chronicle, recently republished by West Virginia University Press. Pictured above is Huey just last year explaining the story of the project (the video can't be embedded here so you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch it). During his project he uncovered cronyism, electoral fraud, the siphoning of public funds to buy influence and patronage, and colossal abuses of power by those in authority.

Here is the intro to Chapter One:

Standing on the streets of Williamson, West Virginia in the winter of 1966, Huey Perry dazzled a New York Times reporter with the achievements of his native Mingo County’s thirty community action programs. Roads into the back hollows had been repaired; schoolhouses had been renovated. Carpenters assisted by men on relief had torn down abandoned shacks and built and painted new homes. Swimming pools had been fixed; a park overlooking the dramatic valleys had been built. As director of the county’s antipoverty program, Perry swelled with his pride in his work. “This must be the most beautiful community action group in the nation,” Perry told the Times. Thanks to Perry’s tour, the reporter noted that six-hundred children now attended Head Start classes, three-hundred teenagers took part in self-help employment projects, and medical checkups had become routine.The crowning achievement, which had garnered the headlines for the story, rested with the new grocery store: “Poor in West Virginia Town, Worried About the High Price of Food, Open Own Grocery.” Perry called it, “poor power.” By taking over an abandoned store and selling shares at ten dollars a shot, unemployed residents in the area had refashioned the shelves into a community grocery store, which ultimately had triggered a sharp reduction in food prices.

For the thirty-year-old Perry, described as “a tall, rangy young man,” by the Times reporter, it was “important for the poor to mobilize their resources collectively.” The story takes a turn here: the reporter did not buy completely into the storybook idealism unfolding on the back streets of Williamson and in the tiny settlements of Big Branch and Cinderella. She had been sent to Mingo County to chronicle the controversy as much as the accomplishments. “Grocers are angry,” the reporter noted. “Other businessmen are uneasy. Old line politicians are upset.” The local state senator and members of the Chamber of Commerce had already gone to Washington, charging that the Mingo County antipoverty program “was attempting to create a political machine by mobilizing the poor.” Federal investigators had already arrived. A local businessman told the Times: “It’s all a Communist plot.”

This community-level grassroots politics is just as much part of the Scotch-Irish story as are the Presidents in the grandeur of the White House. I would argue that ours is a 'bottom-up' culture, with genuine 'people-power' as the driver. You can see this in the Scottish Reformation of the early 1500s just as much as in the hills of West Virginia in the 1960s, never mind here in Ulster over successive centuries.

• Here is a recent and thought-provoking post by Elizabeth Catte, linking and contrasting Huey Perry's work and experiences with the JD Vance Hillbilly Elegy view.

• Her article – There is no neutral there: Appalachia as a mythic “Trump Country” – is essential reading.


Friday, February 24, 2017

The Colrain (Massachusetts) Flag, 1812

The town of Colrain in Franklin County in north west Massachusetts was settled in 1735, having originally been called ‘Boston Township No. 2’, but then renamed in 1743 for the Ulster emigration port town of Coleraine. One of Colrain's early settlers from Ulster was a Matthew Clark, born in Carrickfergus around 1700. Others were called Smith, Ulster-born yet descendants of ‘Scotch Presbyterians’. One source describes these first settlers as ‘intensely Protestant and generally Presbyterians and next to the devil they abominated the king’. In a short history of the town, author Belden Merims wrote that –

'And settled it was, by a hardy band of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians seeking freedom to worship as they wished. They had not found that freedom in eastern Massachusetts, where they had come as early as 1720 from northern Ireland, which they had not found hospitable. However, in 1743 they renamed their town Coleraine after Coleraine, Ireland ...

The Boston Tea Party took place on 16 December 1773. About six weeks later, the men of Colrain gathered to author the Colrain Resolves, on 31 January 1774 - so therefore a year earlier than the Fincastle Resolutions. Colrain then only had a population of 297; the leading men of the town were Hezekiah Smith, Daniel Donelson, William Stewart, James Stewart, John Woods, John Morrison, Joseph Caldwell and Thomas Bell – provoked to action because they were convinced that ‘the sole authority of the British Parliament is unjust, arbitrary, inconsistent and unconstitutional … when our valuable liberties and privileges are trod under foot … it is the duty of every true-hearted American to free themselves from impending ruin …’. Merims wrote –

… Colrain’s Scotch-Irish settlers had no love for the English. Resentments festered, and in January, 1774, at (John) Wood’s Tavern the prominent men of the town gathered and drew up what became known as the Colrain Resolves. Predating the Declaration of Independence by 18 months, the six resolves declare the rights of the individual, objection to taxation without representation, legal authority for independence, the right of the group to self-government, the necessity for action, a listing of specific grievances, the necessity for independence rather than mere reform, and the struggle for independence transcending the individual.'

This interesting article says that the Scotch-Irish were more literate than others in the region, and that these Resolves have ‘a clarity which those of other towns lack’. Here they are in full. 

A generation later, in May 1812, Colrain was the first place to raise a US flag at a public building, which was the local schoolhouse. The flag was made by two sisters called Rhoda and Lois Shippee, and had 15 stripes and 15 stars, which was the design of the first official US flag up until 1818. A memorial stone marks the spot today.

• Here is an 1844 history of Colrain, lots of great detail included. It is interesting that the minister of the Presbyterian church there in 1769, Rev Daniel McClallen, had been born in Pennsylvania in 1737 but educated in Ireland. He was perhaps related to one of Colrain’s leading citizens, Hugh McClallen who was born in Maghera around 1743. Daniel’s grave can be seen here, Hugh’s can be seen here.

The Early Settlers of Colrain, Mass. by Charles H. McClellan (1885) is online here. The author proposes that James Stewart of Colrain had been present at the Siege of Derry in 1688

The Scotch-Irish in Colrain, A Community Study in Eighteenth Century Massachusetts by Nancy Dolberg (published 1976) 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rev Hugh Knox (1727–90), newspaper advert, late 1700s

He was one of the subjects of a previous post, due to his formative influence on the young American revolutionary Alexander Hamilton. Here’s a newspaper advert for some of his books. Even though in the remote Caribbean, Hugh Knox maintained regular correspondence with prominent people in America and Britain. Yet another potentially brilliant uncovered story.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"We the People" (forget the celebrity President)

C5MtyisWQAAhYiE As the media world continues to obsess about Trump, one of our own prominent radio journalists told his audience today the every night he watches Fox News just to see what Trump has been up to. (He's a smart guy, I hope he was jesting - but it was a quip with significance, and shows the scale of the Trump personality). It's tragic and yet also perfect - perfect because for our celebrity age we now have the ultimate celebrity villain giving other celebrities opportunity to say publicity-grabbing things about him, which feeds the media machine and a generation of one-time news journalists who have become little more than gossip columnists then sensationalise and excitedly regurgitate the latest remarks and tweets, and invite other semi-celebrities to comment on them too.

Meanwhile, one journalist in particular has stuck to time-honoured methods by getting beyond the spokespeople to the real people. Chris Arnade is a man you need to read. Here is his latest Guardian article. This is what my recent post 'The President's Poverty Tour' was getting at. Arnade has a pile of similar articles, he takes great photographs (shown here) and he will be visiting Britain in a few weeks' time.

• Follow Chris Arnade on Twitter here. C5BvbPAWYAAC1VRC5MwdrpWQAUeGOKC4vr4jwWcAAVr1h

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sidney Edwards Morse on the Scotch-Irish, 1822

Virginia 1822 SE MorseAnother source,  a good generation before the ‘Famine Irish’ arrived in vast numbers, showing the usage of the term Scotch-Irish, this time in a fairly academic volume entitled A New System of Modern Geography or a View of the Present State of the World (Boston, 1822). The author, Sidney Edwards Morse, was a brother of the inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse, and the family was of Ulster descent. The book is online here

The Morse brothers were both born in the 1790s; their father Jedidiah Morse born in 1761 was a Congregational pastor in New England and a descendant of Armagh-born Ulsterman Rev Dr Samuel Finley, a President of Princeton College. Jedidiah had published similar stuff in 1819, again using the term ‘Scotch Irish” (source here), and even earlier in 1810 (source here) and 1802 (source here). The earliest of his publications with the term seems to be 1789 (source here), where he also describes those in North Carolina as "descendants of people from the North of Ireland, and are exceedlingly attached to the doctrines, discipline and usages of the church of Scotland. They are a regular industrious people".

The breadcrumb trail of usages of the term ‘Scotch-Irish’ seems to be now be pretty much a continuous stream from the 1718 emigration families right up into the 21st century.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The President's "Poverty Tour", Appalachia, April-May 1964

Donald trump signDue to his seemingly endless flow of the bizarre, the incompetent and the ridiculous, since his inauguration Donald J Trump has become even more of a figure of ridicule and hate. I can’t think of a media outlet apart from Breitbart which could be considered anything other than anti-Trump. In some cases I think the media has rushed to exaggerate and misrepresent. But he has made it easy, very easy for them to do so. I am not a fan of Trump, but I am drawn towards the people who put their trust in him at the ballot box, who saw him as being their last opportunity for change in the corporate-political empire.

At least now the media is doing its job again, having been sycophantic Obama-worshippers for the past 8 years (giving only passing coverage to bombing campaigns and drone strikes, for which statistics vary, the destabilisation of other nations through ’springs’, etc), and who right up to the last minute were openly backing Clinton, who was just another establishment candidate. Yes Trump is a billionaire. But the establishment – media, Democrats and Republicans – all openly hate him. And that's a big reason why so many people voted for him.

However, what this media Trump-a-geddon has done is wipe out some of the intelligent journalism which was starting to emerge during 2016, which sought to explain Trump's rise, and which revealed a hidden demographic - a forgotten, abandoned, American underclass far from the urban and coastal élites. The people of last year's bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, which became a bestseller because it connected the journalist class with people they did not know even existed. For a brief few months, those people had a voice, albeit a small one. Now they are once again forgotten as all eyes are focussed on Trump himself. 

So the ‘progressive’ chatterati are virtue-signalling at an industrial scale, every Trump gaffe causing Twitter-tsunamis. Mutual back-slaps of how right on they are. Middle class progressive evangelicals are just as prone to this as anyone else, except they add a bit of Jesus into the mix. They enjoy pointing out online how they are more like Jesus than others are. This used to be called "raising legitimacy to ultimacy", and is a form of Luke 18 Pharisaism. The posturing - whether just to make political points, or when also wrapped in a theological gloss, is tiresome and self-aggrandising.

Well, forget Trump. He is merely the outworking of those forgotten millions. And underneath the fashionable outrage, the progressives are as disinterested in the working class and underclass as ever before - whether Trump voters, UKIP voters, Brexit voters, post-industrial parts of Scotland that I have been to and know people in – or in our own context, people in estates which are still in the grip of paramilitarism. Few of Northern Ireland's 'trendy vicar’ types would be seen dead at a band parade or inside an Orange hall, either through their own choice or the soft policies of those they answer to within their congregations. I have seen many churches on the 12th July and on other parade dates, situated along the parade routes with hundreds of 'unchurched' people standing outside, but with the doors shut and the building deserted. It's not only bad evangelism, it's bad neighbourliness, it's bad community engagement.

Previous Presidents also made publicity capital from these forgotten millions. Below is a film of Lyndon Johnson in the ‘Rust Belt’ and Appalachia in 1964. You can imagine how these images were carefully staged for maximum effect. Just like today. This 2014 retrospective makes for interesting reading.

Whether President or progressive tweeter, they are one and the same, both are merely exploiting the poor for their own publicity advantage.

• PS - I know those who do care, and a number of young ministers who are not scared to get their hands dirty and get stuck in. They're not doing the posturing. They're doing the hard work, far below the radar. Full credit to them.

• PPS - after posting this piece, I see that the Lancashire Post in the north west of England has a similar perspective. I have always had a soft spot for John Pilger’s view of international politics, as this article demonstrates so well.