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August 06, 1969 - Image 2

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Michigan Daily, 1969-08-06

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Page Two


Wednesday, August 6, 1969

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY Wednesday, August 6,1969

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Scottsboro:* The story they never tell

B5y ROBERKT S14.IAK W F <<.~m ~

Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American
South, by Dan T. Carter. Louisiana State
University Press, $10.
History doesn't teach us many lessons
- and' its lessons are too often of the
wrong kind. The only people who learned
something from the Scottsboro case were
white Southern racists, and they found
they were letting themselves in for un-
welcome troubles when they gave accused
blacks a court trial, instead of lynching
them right away. During the 1930's, in
the wake of the Stottsboro trials, many
Southerners put that lesson to use, and
went back to the r o p e instead of the
What was the Scottsboro case? Back
in the 1930's it was a great political cause
celebre. But in the standard United
States history textbooks today one finds
no reference to it. The story is too com-
plicated to fit into a few lines of a crowd-
ed textbook, and the central issue is in-
terracial sex.
Here is w h a t happened, summarized
from the facts and inferences presented
in Dan T. Carter's book;
In March, 1931, a freight train travel-
ing from Chattanooga to Memphis was
carrying the usual complement of stray
kids, hoboes, and unemployed men and
women who rode the rails during the De-
pression days. As the train dipped down
into Alabama, following the course of the
Tennessee River, a fight between white
and blac youths broke out on the train.
When the t r a i n slowed a few of the
whites jumped off and t o I d a station
master they wanted to "press charges"
against blacks on the train who had, they
said, started a fight.
The station master called ahead and
the train was stopped near Scottsboro,
Ala., where a possee waited to search the
cars and arrest every black they could
find. They rounded up nine black boys
ranging in age from 20 to thirteen. They
also came upon two white girls wearing
men's caps and overalls. A few minutes
after a deputy sheriff had tied up the
boys and put them on the back of a truck
for transportation to j a 11, one of the
white girls told him she and her friend
had been forcibly raped by the n i n e
It was pure luck that the boys weren't
lynched then and there. When word of
the alleged outrage got out, a crowd gath-

ered and shouted for the blacks to be
turned over to them. The county sheriff
and the town mayor resisted, however,
,and they got the governor to send in na-
tional guardsmen to protect the jail. One
reporter pointed out that the girls and
the blacks were strangers from another
state; if any had been local people, the
boys would not have escaped lynching.
They were put on trial in Scottsboro
and eight were'swiftly convicted and sen-
tenced to death. A mistrial was declared
in the case of the thirteen-year-old, be-
cause th state had asked for life-im-
prisonment and seven of the jurors re-
fused to settle for less than a sentence of
death. Presumably the sentences would
have been speedily carried out, had not
the Communist Party seen possibilities in
the case.
It is hard to do justice to the motives
of those who wished to help the Scotts-
boro boys. The case was a national jsen-
sation - an alleged gang rape of white
girls by blacks with guns and knives. You
'can guess the chances for a fair trial by
an all-white jury in a s n\ a'11 Alabama
town. The NAACP looked into it, but was
frightened, cautious, and slow. The Com-
munist Party, through its affiliate, the
International Labor Defense (ILD), saw
its chance to gain nationwide publicity

and support and hopefully forge an alli-
ance with black workers. The ILD won
control of the boys' appeals.
Of course the NAACP and the ILD
spent m o s t of their energy attacking
each other. Of course the interests of the
boys were at various times jeopardized by
ILD use of their parents or even of wit-
nesses for publicity purposes. Of course,
ILD participation in the case led white
Southerners to cry Communism whenever
black sharecroppers organized or fought
for their rights during t h e Depression
years. Of course, after the ILD took over
the Scottsboro case, white Southerners
decided to shoot or lynch rather than
take a suspected black - especially whete
the charge was rape - to court.
In any case, the ILD appeal of t h e
Scottsboro convictions did save the boys'
lives. They carried the case to the United
States Supreme Court, and won a rever-
sal - the first of two Supreme Court re-
versals in the case - on grounds that the
state had not provided adequate counsel
for the defendants. The case went back
for re-trial, continuing in Alabama and
U.S. courts through 1937, while boys grew
into men in jail. Eventually four were re-
leased in 1937, and the others at later
times, until the last was set free in 1950.
The legal tangles are too complicated

to be unraveled here. The most signifi-
cant point, however, is that the ILD re-
tained a brilliant criminal lawyer, Samuel
S. Liebowitz, who succeeded in subsequent
trials in convincing an Alabama judge the
boys were innocent (the Judge was
promptly removed from the case) and in
building a legal record that indicates not
only that no rape had taken place, but
also that there had been no intercourse
between the black boys and the white
girls on that train.
This is an important fact. From my
prior reading on the case, I had had the
impression that intercourse h a d taken
place on the train whether it had been
white boys or black boys with the girls.
But during the re-trials Liebowitz elic-
ited testimony from the two Scottsboro
doctors who had examined the girls when
they got off the train that their physical
condition gave no indication they had
been raped. Moreover, there h a d been
difficulty in finding traces bf semen, and
what the doctors had found was non-
motile, that is, at least twelve hours old.
It was ironic that this crucial testimony
was on a subject which no newspaper at
that time would discuss. The public re-
mained ignorant of these important facts.
Why then was the charg of rape made
in the first place? Liebowitz raised the
possibility that the girls were being trans-
ported by the white men from Chattan-
ooga to Memphis for "immoral purposes."
Thus they decided to accuse'the blacks
in order to protect themselves from ar-
rest as prostitutes, or on a Mann Act vio-
lation, since they had crossed state lines.
One of the girls, Ruby Bates, retracted
her testimony and admitted no rape had
taken place, though her recantation lost
much of its impact when it came out that
she had accepted money from the ILD.
Dan T. Carter takes good advantage of
the inherent dramatic form of a criminal
case. Scottsboro is a long b o o k but it
reads with speed and excitement, bogging
down only in chapters recounting t h e
dreary editorial battles waged by T h e
Daily Worker. It is clear that Carter's
sympathy lies with the defendants, but
he tells the story in straight narrative
form, offering few interpretations or di-
rect opinions. There are no lessons to be
gained from the Scottsboro case t h a t
cannot be drawn from other racial or po-
litical episodes in the history of the South
or of America. It is just a story, as Car-
ter says, a tragedy of the American



Duchess ofMalfi:'
Close, but not quite
People were laughing at the end of last night's opening of the
seldom produced Duchess of Malfi. But Webster's play is not
humorous, and it was too bad that the Michigan Repertory Com-
pany's version of the play fell so flat when confronted with the
challenge of putting off seven consecutive and still meaningful
stage murders,
Somehow, the production failed to create a sense of terror,
although the play is meant to be a forceful demonstration of the
whirlwind destruction wrought by the proud, selfish fool that is
so often man. The acting was not-quite strong enough to create
such an ambience, and the play dragged on; perhaps it could have
been wisely trimmed.
And the most detracting element could well have been the
company's use of disgustingly soap-opera-ish canned music to
create tension. The music may in fact haire prevented the generally
competent cast from creating any tension at all. A natural silence,
filled with the sharp sounds of action-footsteps, movements, a
sword hitting a set--would have been much more effective.
The play was really quite well done until the first murder, that
of the Duchess herself. The complex plot involves the lovely young
widowed duchess and her two scheming brothers, one a hot-headed
lord and the other a totally corrupt cardinal. They do not want
the Duchess to sully the proud family name and they are wary of
any remarriage.
The Duchess of course has other ideas. She is in love with her
steward, Antonio, who was unfortunately one of the weakest parts
of the play. Antonio (Michael Hardy) looked and acted like the All-
American boy, and spoke his lines with the stiff elocution of the
hero of the high school play.
Madeleine Ramsay as the Duchess was excellent, however, and
developed the role well. The Duchess is at first only a very young
girl, but the play covers a span of five years and Miss Ramsey's
strong performance made this time lapse credible. The Duchess
becomes skilled at intrigue as she hides her secret marriage to
Antonio-along with three kids.
But when the Duchess is captured and finally strangled by her
brothers' henchnan-what turned out to be the dramatic high
point of the play--The Duchess of Malfi began to drag out. Up to
then, the production was very well done, including the delightful
courtship of Antonio by the Duchess and later the psychological
torments executed' on the captive Duchess by the hot-headed
brother, Ferdinand.'
By .the play's end, Ferdinand has been driven insane by his
vengeance against Antonio and the Duchess. He has the Duchess
killed and instantly repents. Both Ferdinand and the steely Car-
dinal were played well by Victor Lazarow and Robert Holkeboer.
The play itself offers many worthwhile moments. Like most
plays of its kind, The Duchess of Malfi has a strong undercurrent
of sexuality, and the players brought this out, well. Ferdinand falls
into a fit as he visualizes the lovers. Especially good was Marilyn
Gholson as Julia, the cardinal's mistryss.
There is also much intentional humor in Webster, and the
cast did not miss a chance to use it. The lavish costuming was also
But the play did fail in the final analysis-it did not achieve
the purpose intended by its creator.
Yet even so The Duchess of Malfi is worth seeing, not only
because it is so seldom offered, but also for its excellent initial
section-well over half the play. The exact flavor, though, is left
up to the imagination, or if you're fortunate enough to have seen a
complete Duchess, the memory.

DAly--Richard Lee



He was ,not a myth or a hero - only a hope

Robert Kennedy: A Memoir, by
Jack Newfield. E. P. Dutton & Co.
The political coalition put
together by Franklin Delano
Roosevelt over 35 years ago, the
coalition that has dominated
American politics since the
Great Depression, is falling
apart-every political reporter
is saying so.
Coalitions such as that one,
which included Negroes, urban
liberals, unionists and South-
ern bourbons, are necessary for
much of this country's legis-
lative and political function-
ing. They grease legislative
wheels that otherwise might be-
come horribly stuck. They have
flaws in abundance, but for
the non-revolutionary, they are
the accepted way to make
things move.
With the breakdown of the
old New Deal alliance, Richard
Nixon now envisions himself
moving into the breach, organ-
izing the new coalition, a coali-
tion he sees dominating Amer-
ican politics for the next gen-
His is a coalition of stand-
pattism. He hopes to join the
traditional Republican party-
men-business, the petty bour-
geoisie, the farmers-with the
conservative wing of the old
FDR alliance: the South and
the lower middleclass laborers.
It is a more developed form of
the "Southern .strategy" that
won the 1968 election for Nixon.
It is not a coalition of, in-
novation, like the New Deal.
Rather, it is a coalition of, con-
servatism, of reaction against
Negro gains and black de-
mands, against the demand for
drastic reform at home, recon-
sideration abroad and new na-
tional priorities.'
Whether Nixon can put all
the parts together is yet to be
seen. But the greatest stumbling
block was eliminated over a
year ago-with the assassina-
tion of Robert Kennedy.
For all that was wrong with

Jack Newfield's Robert Ken-
nedy: A Memoir, a generally
laudable effort, notes Kenne-
dy's own coalition-making only
as one of a number of themes
of the inter-assassination per-
iod, from November, 1963 to
June, /1968. He stresses as much
Kennedy's personality and the
myths and near-myths that
surrounded the heir apparent.
But with the emergence of Nix-
on's plans for America's future,
the elucidation of, RFK's own
vision becomes the crucial sec-
In a more general way, it was
Today's writers . .
ROBERT SKLAR is a pro-
fessor of history and American
studies at the University.
managing editor, is currently
an employe of the Detroit
bureau of the Associated Press
and a resident of Oak Park.
recognized last year what the
loss of Robert Kennedy meant.
He was a divided man
who at his death was moving
toward some yet undefined
inner cohesion which could
havesbeen of immense service
to his fellow men. The special
quality of this tragedy is that
now the world will never know
the great man he might have
The New York Times was too
ethereal about what the unreal-
ized Robert Kennedy was to be.
Newfield notes the unintellec-
tualized nature of where Robert
Kennedy was going, which the
Times hinted at. But he goes
on to spell out in detail what
Kennedy himself saw. "He was
not a hero, only a hope," New-
field wrote. "He was not a myth,
only a man."
It was the hope that was
Robert Kennedy that was so
important for America in the
late 1960s. The purists can go
on supporting Eugene McCar-
thy, for he did speak out first.

But Kennedy was more than
a domestic liberal. He saw, in-
stead, a new liberalism, more
relevant for the problems that
New Deal liberalism is obvious-
ly failing to meet.
Newfield has a neat little
thesis to explain Kennedy's role,
which explains away very well
Kennedy's atrocious record up
to 1964. It was exactly' because
Kennedy was a conservative
during the '50s that he was
able to define a new liberalism,
Newfield says.
Kennedy had none of the old
liberal's obligations. For one, he
did not think of the AFL-CIO
and unionism generally as a
progressive force, which it may
have been 20 or 30 years ago.
He had no crippling allegiance
to . the hypocritical George
Meany that made him com-
promise himself every time he
talked of union leadership.
Likewise, because he was a
conservative in the early 50s,
he did not have to prove his
anti-Communism the way every
liberal did.
Newfield's analysis, although
reasonable, must seem super-
fluous to most Kennedy sup-
porters and unconvincing to the
Bobby-haters. What is impor-
tant was his recent record, es-
pecially at the polls, that proved
what he could do, given the
Robert Kennedy was quite
likely the last mainstream
politician of his generation
who might have served as a
bridge between the black and
white faces that lined the op-
posite sides of the railroad
tracks to wave farewell to lis
funeral train.
The militant young 1-lacks,
who wore "Free Huey New-
ton" buttons as they cheered
Kennedy in San Francisco the
day before he was shot, and
the low-income whites who
signed George Wallace peti-
tions in July, would have both
voted for Kennedy in Novem-
ber. He was able to talk to the
two polarities of powerless-
ness at the same time.
They understood that if he

haps the younger union men
did not know of. Bobby's labor
racketeering investigation, but
remembered only the vitality
of the President Kennedy to.
with whom Bobby was so close.
Whatever, the rich Irishman
who spent summers yachting
and winters skiing was the
choice of the poor, the only op-
timistic choice they had.
Kennedy himself did not real-
ize at first what his run for
the presidency was to mean,
though he would learn before
his death.
Kennedy sought the Presi-
dency in 1968 he said, and
believed, because of the war
in Vietnam. But Dr. King's
murder, preceded as it was by
Johnson's abdication and the
start of the peace talks, en-
abled Kennedy to glimpse the
deeper roots of America's in-
ternal 'disease, and to imagine
himself as the possible healer
of that disease.
Kennedy had for several
years been tormented by the
poverty and unhappiness of
the other America. But it was
only campaigning for the Pres-
idency, feeling the love for
him among the poor, seeing
his huge vote margins from
slum districts, that showed
Kennedy that his passion for
the poor was reciprocated.
This did not happen in one
moment. -It was perceived in
action during the final weeks
of Kennedy's life, as he spoke
about poverty and racism, as
he campaigned among the
poor, and gradually came to
comprehend how much he
meant to them.
Newfield deals with other
problems, with Kennedy's rec-
ord for ruthlessness, with his
being political rather than
idealistic. On both counts he is

Newfield concedes the
charges, but maintains that
Kennedy changed and devel-
oped, and that he was still
changing and developing.
He also concedes Kennedy's
overly political habits, and the
existence of the Bad Bobby, as
opposed to the Good Bobby,
that the Village Voice's Jules
Feiffer made famous.
But even after those conces-
sions, he returns again to what
Robert Kennedy could have
Kennedy was, in the end, a
compassionate man and leader.
He saw a hope for a new Amer-
ica, led by a coalition of the
poor-urban and rural, black
and white-of the young and
of the middle class liberals.
The loss of Robert Kennedy
was a personali one, for many
people. We of the white, col-
lege-educated middle\ class will
go on, more easily than the
poor who looked only to Ken-
nedy. Newfield's closing com-
ments speak for both, though
of necessity more for those who
needed Robert Kennedy:
Now I realized what makes
our generation unique, what
defines us apart from those
who came before the hopeful
winter of 1961, and those who
came after the murderous
spring of 1968. We are the first
generation that learned from
experience, in our innnocent
twenties, that things were not
really getting better, that we
shall not overcome. We felt,
by the time we reached thir-
ty, that we had already
glimpsed the most compasion-
nate leaders our nation could
produce, and they had all
been assassinated. And from
this time forward, 'things
would get worse: our best
political leaders were part of
memory now, not hope.





the middle class saw as ruth-
lessness; what the poor saw as
emotional warmth the rich saw
as emotional instability or ro-
manticism; what one saw as
earthiness the other saw as lack
of polish.
I cannot agree with this
analysis, though I am at a loss
for a better explanation. Per-

present Nicolai's opera
uii i111 W 9"ITA L AT 1

11 1 1il Ing 9 10"m. n I


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