Author Archives: Kevin Levin

It’s About Time Someone Said This

Powell From the Meet the Press transcript with Colin Powell, 10/19/08:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

A Very Special Wedding

Michaela and I spent the weekend in New York City to attend a very special wedding, which was held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.  My college friend, Hope May who teaches philosophy and runs the Ethics Center at Central Michigan University, married Jeffrey Wigand who is best known for uncovering long-standing corruption in the tobacco industry.  He was the subject of the Hollywood movie, "The Insider"(1999), which starred Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. 

It was truly a unique wedding.  Testimonies were offered throughout the service by family members and friends as well as passages on the importance and meaning of marriage.  Here is a short excerpt from an essay by Elizabeth Cady Stanton titled "On Marriage".

There is one beauty of the earth, another of the stars, a beauty of rounded lines and fresh colors, and a subjective beauty which fadeth not away. Blessed are they who love for that alone, who, in a true spiritual union, find an element of the permanent, that like myrrh and frankincense, sweetens and glorifies life, makes gods of men and women and paradise on earth. One of these unions has given the world a John Stuart Mill, who in his writings unites the consciousness and strength of the man with the tenderness and inspiration of the woman; and whether speaking of trade, science, philosophy or law, a deep abiding love for humanity breathes in every line. He and his glorified wife were one in all their studies, interests and ambitions. Whatever came from the pen of one was the united thought of both… And this is marriage, a true union of soul and intellect, which leads, exalts and sanctifies the physical consummation.

Mer1909br.38982_md What I truly appreciated about this secular ceremony was the emphasis placed not just on their shared love for one another, but on the ways in which this union will further their shared commitment to education and public advocacy.  It's unfortunate that our society is so preoccupied with questions about same-sex, interracial, and inter-religious marriage when what we should be emphasizing is the transformative power of shared love and the potential for a greater public good. This is a couple that came together because of a shared passion for education and justice.  Their sex, religion, race, age are all completely irrelevant.  What ultimately matters is the way they identity with one another and in turn themselves. I walked out of the ceremony thinking to myself that this is a powerful union, that both of them will be better individuals because they have the other to rely on.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if even a small fraction of married couples could say that about one another? 

Following the reception we made our way over to the penthouse of the Parker Meridien for the reception, which overlooked Central Park.  The photograph above was taken from the banquet room.  

Click here for Wigand's personal website, which includes information about the movie, congressional testimony and Smoke-Free Kids.

I should mention that we also took in a dynamite jazz show on Friday at the Village Vanguard featuring the Bill Charlap Trio .

New Graphic Novel About Patrick Cleburne and Black Confederates Forthcoming

Cleburne1 I opened up the latest issue of one of the major Civil War magazines today and noticed a full-page spread announcing the publication of a graphic novel titled Cleburne by Justin Murphy, which tells the story of  his plans to arm slaves.  You can read an interview with the author here.  Check out these choice quotes from that interview:

Ultimately, Cleburne is not so much about African Americans fighting for the Confederacy, as it is the idea of it, and what that idea ultimately cost the South’s most promising military leader.  It is the story of a true underdog who challenged the institutions of the very society he fought to defend.

What many today do not know is that there were a large number of Confederate officers and enlisted men who were opposed to slavery. Every one of General Cleburne’s regimental commanders put their names on his proposal to free and arm the slaves. This was a huge career risk for them and they would not have allied themselves with him unless they strongly believed in his idea.  So what then were they fighting for if not to preserve slavery?  The truth is many Southerners felt they had no choice but to defend their home states, and others were fighting against what they believed to be an over-reaching Federal government (a problem Americans are still dealing with today).

I’m aware of the political-incorrectness of such a subject and I’m also aware of the sensitivity of the issue.  Some historians and educators may speak out against this book and accuse me of fabrication, but I’m ready for them.  The truth is I’ve probably spent more hours studying the subject than they ever will.  As far as speaking at schools, I will admit it can be difficult to stand in front of a classroom full of black students and try to explain why they should care about someone who (they’ve been told) fought for a government that wanted to keep their ancestors enslaved.  It’s an uphill battle and I don’t blame them for being a little suspicious. There’s very spotty evidence for black confederate soldiers, but the proof is still there in the eyewitness accounts, and the concept seems to capture public’s imagination.  That is why I have used the image in so much of my advertising.

Cleburne Murphy's responses are a clear reflection of the sloppiness that often accompanies discussion of so-called black Confederates.  First, it is unclear to me why we are so fascinated with Cleburne and his proposal to arm slaves.  If I remember correctly, he wasn't even the first; Gen. Richard S. Ewell proposed a similar plan in 1861.  Also notice the inference that because an officer supported the plan they must have been anti-slavery or that this plan was meant as a first step towards general emancipation.  What Murphy never mentions, of course, is that the plan was debated throughout the Confederacy and throughout much of the war, and from what historians can tell it never really had a chance.  That the plan was only passed in the final weeks of the war suggests that few white Southerners were able to contemplate such a development.  In fact, the passage of the proposal, along with R.E. Lee's support, was meant as a way to save the Confederacy and slavery and not as a step towards general emancipation. 

Murphy also falls into the trap of failing to distinguish between the outlines of Cleburne's plan and the experiences of individual slaves who were present with Confederate armies.  Their presence had nothing to do with Cleburne.  They served as slaves in various capacities and a few may even have picked up a rifle and fired it at a "Yankee" at one point or another.  This ought not to be confused with serving officially as Confederate soldiers, although there may even be some exceptions in this case. 

If you are interested in the history of Cleburne and black Confederates I recommend Bruce Levine's Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War and if you would like to learn more about Cleburne himself, check out Craig Symonds's Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War.  Finally, here is a brief trailer for Murphy's graphic novel.  Enjoy.