Mailbag: Letter From a Birmingham Museum


A couple of notable emails from Epsilon Theory readers on “Letter From a Birmingham Museum“.

It’s true that once you become aware of these narrative machines, you see them everywhere.

I couldn’t stop thinking, while reading your note, about the current situation in Catalonia, a part of the world I know relatively well. The Spanish central government and the media are focusing entirely on the Catalan government breaking the law and on how an independence referendum is unconstitutional, and they will not debate the morality of such law or higher principles such as the right of self-determination. On the other hand, the independence movement has been able to use children and older folk during marches and protests. This has resulted in powerful images on newspapers and websites all over the world of the police beating old grandmothers in line to vote.

I am not entirely sure how all this will be resolved, but it is fascinating to see how this War of Narratives is developing and how it is very similar to other past wars. Thanks again for the work you are doing; I always have a feeling of growth and improvement after reading your notes.

– Ivan K.

I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t mention the widespread prevalence of this “but it’s illegal” narrative in political and civil rights struggles across time and across geography. Ivan is absolutely right about what’s happening in Spain, and I would bet that every non-US Epsilon Theory reader can find examples of this State narrative in their own country.

I am just sitting down to this now, and noticed the picture on page 3 of the police officers and their dogs lunging at a young black boy in Birmingham. I can’t help but recommend Malcom Gladwell’s podcast about this exact image, if only to satisfy any curiosity you may have. The title of his podcast is “Revisionist History” (it has a website, and can be accessed on all the normal channels, including iTunes), and the relevant episode is from Season 2 and is called “The Foot Soldier of Birmingham.” It is truly fascinating. Of interest may be the one immediately prior, called “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment.” They are relevant to all of us, but it sounds like very much to you.

– Henry

Lots of readers called the Malcolm Gladwell podcast to my attention, which I had not heard before. You can access it directly here. In a nutshell, this most famous picture of the Bull Connor era in Birmingham is not at all what it appears to be. The young man in the photo had nothing to do with the “Children’s Crusade”, as the intentional insertion of children into harm’s way in order to become a media cause celebre was called by the organizers of the march. He was just trying to get home. And the policeman in the photo was trying to restrain the dog and protect the young man, not sic the dog on him. But the photo was so evocative, so perfect for the narrative that civil rights organizers and journalists wanted to disseminate, that it didn’t matter. It’s a perfect example of the overwhelming power of Narrative, way more potent than the Truth with a capital T.

Longtime reader of your letter, and a native of Birmingham myself, born ~15 years after you were. I have to admit never having gone to the museum for the same reasons you mention. After reading your note that will change on my next trip home.

– Matt T.

Then my work here is done. Like I say, the Civil Rights Museum is a gut check.

Cheap shot against Trump with the Time Magazine cover and immigration reference.

Bull Connor was a lifelong segregationist democrat who used violence against blacks.

Republican Trump inherited Obama’s immigration policy, that included separating and caging children.

Trump used an executive order to change the policy and keep families together.

Not quite the impression you created.

Maybe you should move out of Connecticut. Or maybe do a little research and “think for yourself”.

– Mark V.

In the immortal words of Bill Simmons when he closes a Mailbag, “yep, those are my readers.” But it’s somehow funnier when Bill does it. This wasn’t the only email I got from readers determined to let me know that Donald Trump is actually reuniting families that were separated by Obama’s heartless decrees. We are well and truly broken. 

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