Letter From a Birmingham Museum
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After reading Letter from a Birmingham Museum when you published it, I re-read it every Jan 20th.
I knew a black lady who grew up in Birmingham during that time and she was one of the children participating in the demonstrations. She said there was always a prayer session before they went out in public to prepare them for what they might encounter. As a little girl she volunteered to do this. She believed there was always the possibility she would be killed, but was still willing to give her life for the cause of freedom.
This is a tremendous essay Ben. I was a Brexit voting individual living in a cosmopolitan part of North London. The media narrative, the local government narrative and the mayoral narrative have all been powerfully in favour of remaining. The vast majority of my social group and neighbours were also ardent remainers. Leavers have been othered and made to feel they were beyond the pale. It is only now with the benefit of hindsight I can see just how hard ‘The Man’ worked to get me to change my mind.
The French are using power hoses on their opposition at the moment. There is a strong echo of ‘The Man’ in Europe fighting against the natural wishes of countries to determine their own future. A sort of mirror image of segregation.
Thanks for writing that Ben. There is an excellent podcast on the history behind the picture of the boy being (apparently) bitten by the German shepherd. It’s on Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History (Season 2, Episode 4). I just happened to listen to it a week before your note. It gives an alternative and much more nuanced narrative - 30 minutes well spent. I totally get your feelings about going to the museum. It strikes me that Germans have been much more open about their history - one can (and should) visit Dachau for instance. It’s not hidden. Why don’t we have the equivalent of Dachau here? We need to confront the history properly.
Yes! I talk about the Gladwell “Revisionist History” episode in a Mailbag note I wrote after the original posting of this note. You can catch that here: https://www.epsilontheory.com/mailbag-letter-from-a-birmingham-museum/
As someone who grew up in Australia and lives in Iraq, I appreciate these types of ET reflective moments that put it all in perspective. Next time I am in the States, I will take my daughter to see this. I only wish there was an Australian version of this museum that puts our history in perspective with such grace and effectiveness.
I reread it yesterday. Next Sunday I’m giving a member reflection. King’s six page, single spaced, double sided letter is very appropriate, IMO, this week.
Thank you for your July, 3, 2018 ET commentary.
Thank you, Jim. And yes, King’s letter is VERY appropriate this week.
And I updated the essay to reflect Gladwell’s podcast.
About 1955 I lived in Augusta, GA. One Saturday I got on a bus to go downtown to see a movie. There was just me (a 14 or so year old) and the driver. He had the bus parked, since he had been ahead of schedule. Three GIs from Camp/Fort Gordon got on to make the same trip downtown as me. They paid their fare and went to sit down in the back of the bus. The driver said they couldn’t sit there. They asked why not? He told them, using the term of the time. They said it didn’t matter there was only the five of us. The driver said if they didn’t get up the bus wasn’t moving. With some irritation the GIs moved up. Even as a teenager that had grown up in the south, the stupidity of the situation hit me fairly hard.
Great letter - i am from Germany originally and my wife is American. One day (soon) we will take our kid to visit the Museum in Birmingham. I imagine it must have been similar experience for you as when I visited the Dachau concentration site… one can not fathom how cruel we can be and how quickly our “civilized” society can devolve into madness unless you visit these museums in person. Every country should have such sites to hold up a mirror to themselves…
I had the same feeling when I visited the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Educating and uplifting. Very humbling.
Ben was on twitter today July 16, 2023, highlighting his July 3, 2018 note:
Letter From a Birmingham Museum.
“MLK Day reminds us of the foundations of a UNITED States of America, a reminder that has never been more important to take into our hearts.”
I’ve read King’s letter every year since then.
In the fall of 1968 I was a new airline pilot (23 yrs) on a short layover in Atlanta. I decided to walk down the concourse to the terminal to look at the magazines. The concourse was empty except for one group of people walking in line toward me. I was wearing my pilot uniform, including my hat, as we approached each other. There was one woman in the middle of the line, surrounded on either side by several well dressed men with their hats on, Everyone was looking straight ahead. I instinctively tipped my head. Everyman tipped their heads continuing to look forward.
“Wow, that was powerful”, I thought. “Who are they?” “Oh, my God, that was Mrs, King.”
That’s a great story, Jim. I can just imagine the scene as you describe. Should be in a movie!
Thanks for the re-post, and really a good article. Wonderful insight on how “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” It’s the narratives, stupid. (and yes, making a reference here to a narrative from 1992 that I found particularly disingenuous and opportunistic, but politically inevitable.)
I have to call out the narrative in this article, here as well. Don’t you want to be free thinking? Don’t you want to not be a follower of those trillion dollar story making machines, designed to keep you in line and off the board? You don’t want to support those monster raccoons do you? Stick with our pack.
Now this is not a disingenuous argument, but it uses the same us vs them that the two political parties use. It’s still tribal (still my preferred term for pack). Maybe we persuade best when using narratives in such a way… it’s really powerful! But it’s funny to see us using the tools we call out. I want to be clear, though, not calling hypocrisy, just I can’t read this without seeing the meta… maybe by design?
I know Ben and Rusty have posted a fair bit of self reflection on the topic, but this one seemed particularly… fun (not sarcasm… truly fun). I guess the medicine is working.
I agree Palmer.
Maybe we should call it a Super Pack or a Super Fudiciary Pack or better yet a Super Fudiciary Pack TM. ( a pack with the duty of acting in good faith with regard to the interests of another not in our pack)
As an aside, I follow Chris Arnade’s substack ‘Chris Arcade Walks the World’. In his report from Amman, Jordon, this morning, he discussed pigeon keepers in Amman something he knew from his childhood in Brooklyn.
He ended his article with:
“Beatitude from birds. Birds that others find ordinary and icky.
Now that’s a Life Hack™ I can get behind.”
Question to Ben and Rusty:
Where and when did you get to use the TM designation in this context? Is it original?
“The trademark symbol ⟨™⟩ is a symbol to indicate that the preceding mark is a trademark, specifically an unregistered trademark. It complements the registered trademark symbol ⟨®⟩ which is reserved for trademarks registered with an appropriate government agency.”
Yep! Seemed like a great way to express the constructed nature of so many common knowledge pillars. I think the “Yay, xyz!” construction came first, but got more traction with TM.
It’s true, I am intentionally and proudly singing the Old Songs of small-l liberalism and small-c conservatism, and I think I sing pretty well.
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