Child Migration

Once again I am foraging into the world of modern history for ‘out-of-comfort-zone’ month, and I have chosen to look into the actions and movements of child migration in the middle of the twentieth century. I originally had a different idea for this post but watching series four of Call the Midwife last night, the aspect on the ‘Child Migrant Programme’ sparked curiosity. The idea of sending supposed vagrant children to English colonies began in 1618 to populate the Virginia Colony as cheap labour, but for this post I shall be focusing particularly on the children in the post-war era of Britain. This behaviour of removing children from their families and homes, often without consultation, is nothing new and occurs across the world, usually in times when a country is in crisis or dealing with an aftermath of a crisis.
By the 1950’s, Britain had a long history of shipping children as young as three away from their homelands through to around 1975. Most popular destinations were America, Australia and New Zealand and most were placed in institutions or sold to farmers to work in the fields. Most of these children had been subject to neglect in their homelands, were orphans or were placed in the adoption system. Yet these early hardships could be nothing compared to what they would experience in these apparently new ‘hopeful lands’ which Britain wanted to populate with ‘good white England stock’. The average age of being sent away was between seven and fourteen, the age which a child could seem capable of leaving the homestead and beginning menial land work. However if a child was found in neglectful circumstances in their homeland, they could be removed from the ages of three to four. Any younger the child would be attempted to be adopted in their home country as more families are willing to take in babies rather than older children, a sad fact still true of today. There are numerous accounts documenting that fact that the majority of children travelling were often not healthy enough to survive, a quote from the Fairbridge Society on Child Migrants in 1950 states:
“This party is the worst which we have ever received. From whichever aspect they are considered, there is nothing to recommend them… We have in the past featured that it is an advantage to Australia to have immigrants of good sound British stock. If they are neither good nor sound we must modify our statements and lose one of our most profitable items of propaganda.”
Once they arrive in their destination after what usually would be a lengthy and tedious boat ride halfway across the world, they would be segregated into institutions, sold off to farmers or placed in an equivalent of the British workhouse in the early twentieth century. Many of the children were those from over-crowded orphanages, placed in short-term foster situations and homeless children. On the other hand there are actual cases of children from loving family homes being removed without parental consent and placed onto the next ship that leaves the docklands. This action was particularly prevalent in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Southampton due to high populations of children in destitute areas and nearest to boat yards. This does not mean it did not occur further inland, but the majority of children came from high density cities and towns and well-connected rural villages.
Removing children from England was popular to ensure an increase of a ‘white population’ in newly developing westernised societies. Places like America, New Zealand and Australia had a history of rehabilitating English criminals, yet it was thought had children would have better time adapting to new surroundings. The government thought this would ensure a population increase during a time when segregation between white and black people was still in extremis. Although child migration had been occurring for centuries, this particular bout started during World War Two as a way of removing children from the dangers of being bombed in a city. But the key idea was to populate countries like Australia which had a high native population with British children to balance against the vast quantity of people in Asia between England and Australia. Indeed a quote from the Archbishop of Perth in 1938 confirms this:
“At a time when empty cradles are contributing woefully to empty spaces, it is necessary to look for external sources of supply. And if we do not supply from our own stock we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races.”
Although several countries such as Germany, Finland and Russia have used Child Migration as a last resort, Britain has the longest sustaining use of this abhorrent act. Child Migration to Virginia, North America began in 1618 and the last group of children arrived in 1970, totalling a couple of million children over the three hundred and fifty-two years. There was a strong prejudice against children who were chosen to go as countries are known to have refused physically disabled children or black children. The case in Virginia meant that once the children arrived in America they would be separated from siblings and sent to different institutions across the country. Most were sent without proper documentation such as birth certificates, passports or medical histories. The work would range from farming to factory work, considering that the children their own age in England would be at school, not working.
Many of the children never made it back to their country of birth, several settled to a life of hardship some equivalent to slavery. All had a consistent disregard for their homeland that had ‘abandoned’ them. Several charities have been set up to attempt to get the now adult children back in touch with their family in the UK, yet many would never succeed or would not bother.
All information gather from the Child Migrants Trust, for more information please visit:

Let them Eat…Pumpkins

So back in October (2014) with the Halloween craze I suddenly found myself thinking: “what’s the deal with these pumpkin stuff?”. Then I realised I knew nothing about pumpkins- OK it is not a big deal, and perhaps you do not know much about pumpkins either, but you know where potatoes or tomatoes come from right? Well I came to the conclusion that I ought to know what was so special about them in both cultural and historical terms…And here is my research.

It seems that they are not only a Halloween icon, but also one of the most common crops on Earth. They had being used as a source of food as far back as 10.000 B.C as recent research by Cindy Ott shows. They were popularly grown and consumed in the Oaxaca highland (Mexico), and certainly cultivated in the Tehuacan and Tamaulipas as staple food since 6.000-5.000 B.C. Most Mesoamerican Pre-Columbian tribes like the Aztects and the Maya used them not only as a source for nutrients but also their seeds to create oil and sauces, and even the shells to make cups. Moreover, it has been suggested that they would also dry strips of pumpkin and then sew them together to make mattresses. 

The use and demand for pumpkins increased even more with the arrival of the European colonists, as there were no other staples easily available unlike in the old continent. It seems that at this stage they may have even being used to produce certain drinks, like beer (Pumpkin beer…that’s a thought for you…) The Spanish colonists took brought pumpkins back into Europe where they became popular as they were quite cheap and nutritious food, and so pumpkins started to become common ingredients in European recipes. Of course, the tradition continued in America, and in fact the first recipe for pumpkin pie recorded in American cookery books dates from 1796, provided by a woman by the name of Amelia Simons.

However, by the 19th century pumpkin consumption went into decline. The main reason behind this turn was simply that fact that other food sources were available, and even though it was still an affordable item for the poor, the wealthier classes did not deem it appropriate for their kitchens neither their tables. Ironically, while less and less pumpkins passed through the tables of both American and European people, they grew dear in their hearts and evoked a sentiment of nostalgia. Moreover, these orange, dark green and yellowish fruits (yes, they are technically fruits) became usual sightings in daily life paintings and landscapes. In addition, this contributed to the tradition of serving pumpkin for Thanksgiving, as a recollection of the traditional agricultural life of the American settlers and ancestors.

So how do we get from the pumpkin to the Halloween lanterns? Well, it is all due to the Irish, of course. With the great influx of immigrants from Ireland since the Potato Famine, a cultural mash-up took over the United States, thus combining the original Celtic idea of Samhain and the American pumpkin tradition to make Jack O’ lanterns that were meant to spook off evil spirits.

But if you think that pumpkins are things of the past, then you are wrong. Most traditions revolving around pumpkins are still alive. The production of pumpkin crops in the United States nowadays is still massive. Researches Orzolek, Greaser and Harper, from the Penn. University have gathered data that suggests that around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced each year in North America, particularly in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania. Furthermore, in modern-day Mexico they grow enough pumpkins each year to supply for the whole country as have spare to export to Japan…

And with this brief story about pumpkins, I hope your curiosity, like mine, feels a bit more satisfied and complete. knowing about this millenarian food resource that has shape shift from pies to lanterns!

American Vampire: 19th Century reality transcribed to comic

2010 saw the release of what, in my personal opinion, was one of the coolest comics of that year. American Vampire, created by Scott Snyder, draw by Rafael Albuquerque- and scripted for 5 volumes by Stephen King- tells an old tale in a new fashion. The comic series explores a new breed of vampires and their evolution in the United States from the 1880s up to current times. Under the label of Vertigo, which is the mature/adult section of DC Comic, the blood and violence feast is guaranteed, yet alongside a wonderful storyline, some fantastic art work- and a great historical setting through the modern history of North America. The premise is simple, like Pearl Jam’s famous song: “It’s Evolution, babe”, and vampires, as all things on this planet, “do the evolution”. Here is the first-born of this breed, Skinner Sweet, a gunslinger outlaw who wakes up after being transform in this better un-dead who is immune to sunlight. The rest of the story follows him through the pass of time, in his fight with the European vampires of old.

American Vampire presents in a nutshell, the struggle of a country with a history of around 300 years, new but yet owing much to the different features that created this pastiche, all combined with the fascination of all times for these mythological creatures. American Vampire is 21st century Americas young generations in paper and colour. But, what if I told you this story is actually related to real life events, prominent in the area of New England at the end of the 19th Century? Well, then let me tell you a little story about a man called Edwin Brown and his family from Exeter (Rhode Island).

The year is 1892, and a brutal outbreak of tuberculosis affects New England. Young Edwin died in march that year as a result of this diseased, commonly known back then as “consumption”. His family had been affected by this malady for quite some time. Since 1883, consumption had taken the lives of his mother and his 2 sisters. Mercy Brown, his younger sibling had only died earlier on January that same year. However, back then this illness, as many others, was still very poorly understood by both practitioners and victims. The doctors were unable to provide the answers the populace was requesting of them, so in an act of what can only be presumed to be good faith, the Edwin’s community decided to exhume the bodies of his deceased relatives. Why? Because they were under the assumption that the young man may have being leached by the undead!

His elderly father, George Brown, reluctantly allowed this otherwise disrespectful even to happen. Anxiety came around when the corpses of Edwin’s mother and older sister were found in their caskets as it would have been expect, but young Mercy would turn the tables. Her body was still in good state of conservation, as her death had only been recent, and reminiscences of blood could be found in her arteries and heart. Superstition then took over science; her heart and lungs were cremated and used for a remedy which was meant to heal Edwin…Nevertheless, he joined his sister only a few weeks later…

Academic Diana Ross Mclain has actually reported in her research at least 18 other instances similar to the tragedy suffered by the Brown family in other towns and villages of New England, between the 18th and 19th century…Perhaps there is more to Snyder’s comic than new media creative ideas and social context. Perhaps American Vampire is a reflection of the never-ending paranoia of a nation that, for only having a few centuries of history, has burnt and persecuted witches, werewolves, Big Foot and even vampires. A nation of outsiders made anew and where outsiders are equally disliked…Just like Skinner Sweet…

Portraits of Native Americans by George Catlin

In this week’s blog post I am going to look at the work of George Catlin, a nineteenth century artist and writer who painted and interacted with Native Americans along the advancing American frontier. I want to establish how easy or difficult the task was, how events and opinions forming in the background affected the response and overall meaning of the Native American portraits and what legacy he left to contemporary Native Americans and historians. Firstly though I will provide some context as to who George Catlin was and investigate his aims and personal feelings in his travels.

George Catlin (1796-1872) was an American-born artist from Pennsylvania. He had originally begun training to become a lawyer in 1817 but soon became interested in being an artist through meeting Thomas Sully, a prominent American portraitist during this period. During the 1830s, Catlin undertook five trips beyond the western frontier in land that was influenced by American/European culture but had yet to become American territory. The aim of George Catlin’s work, and the later touring exhibitions, was to record the daily lives, rituals, and social dynamics of the various Native American groups across central and western North America. Catlin wanted to do this by painting the portraits of Native American individuals and groups, by collecting different artefacts and by publishing his writing on his interaction with those individuals he observed. Catlin assembled his collection for his “Indian Gallery” exhibition that toured in the eastern states from 1833 to 1839. The exhibition contained over 500 portraits of cultural activity and items used in daily life and ritual.

Painting and collecting was no easy task and from the beginning there were issues that had to be taken into account. Firstly, whilst the Native Americans that Catlin met were not in American territory, they would have more than likely had met Christian missionaries and traders as well as land speculators. As Stephanie Pratt and Joan Carpenter Troccoli suggest; ‘It is important that we remember the context, for Catlin’s desire to record Native American culture before it was contaminated or destroyed was inevitably too ambitious.’ [1] By collecting and presenting these portraits and artefacts, Catlin would have also had made a name for himself. However, his fame and career did not always pick up, as what began as a success slowly turned in debt and bankruptcy. Catlin’s time touring in Europe from 1840 to 1855 and then 1860 to 1871 did bring a measure of success and his work was shown to various important figures of the time such as Queen Victoria in 1843 and King Louis-Philippe in 1845. It is also worth noting that during his European tours, a group of Ojibwa Indians also joined Catlin’ tour and performed for audiences across England, France and Belgium. It would seem therefore that it was very difficult venture to pursue though Catlin appears to have made a good attempt at it.

This is not to say that the Native American people who Catlin painted and observed did not want to be recorded, it is just that many historians and Native Americans do not like the way and the reasons that it occurred. One of the main reasons for Catlin going on the trips was to record what he thought was the vanishing culture of North America. The cliché of the ‘Dying Indian’ was prominent during this period and Catlin appears to have been part of this opinion but rather than accept it, he in some sense wanted to save what he saw as a vanishing peoples. Literary works such as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) is a good example of the idea of disappearing Indians from North America as seen in popular literature. Catlin’s work also had a place in the wider colonial narrative of the Euro-American world. As American colonists and Native Americans increasingly came into conflict with one another across the Great Plains, it could be said that many Americans only saw the warlike side of the Native Americans and nothing else.

So what was George Catlin’s legacy? After investigating his life and art work there seems to be various conclusions that we can make. On the one hand, the portraits and images created by Catlin produced many of the images and stereotypes that persist today about the vanishing native peoples of North America. By portraying the Native Americans as a lost culture, Catlin and many others were pushing the Indians from historical knowledge which put them in the past as opposed to the United States push west and into the future. On the other hand, Catlin’s desire to record what he saw before it vanished was a worthy goal, even if it was to a degree career and fame orientated. Catlin also looked past the popular stereotypes and saw a culture being destroyed by American contact, which he felt needed recording before it disappeared. Indeed, many of the portraits and paintings have also been useful to contemporary Native American tribes who use his work to further their understanding of their ancestors if it is needed. Therefore, whilst the portraits and writings of George Catlin have contributed to the image of a vanishing people, they also helped produce a visual history of the Native Americans that might not had existed without Catlin.

[1] S, Pratt and J, Troccoli., George Catlin, American Indian Portraits (London, 2013), 25.

Link below to the Smithsonian American Art Museum which holds the collection:

Ghost from war past: The Portrait by Aaron Copland

A man with a strong personality is that one who, commissioned in a time of war to make a musical portrait of a fellow countryman decides that he wants to depict Wal Whitman, a famous peacemaker. That the man ended up working on a portrait of Abraham Lincoln reflects not only the seriousness of times but also the awareness and tactfulness of the same man, being able to let down his own pet idea for what was considered a better option for that particular moment in time, an inspiring piece of art in time of need. The fact that the piece itself is a black swan in classical music, and a moving mix of folklore, History, voice and music, a true avant-la-lettre multimedia artwork speaks of the genius that man was. The name of the man was Aaron Copland.

Now, you probably do not know the name. Never heard of it, don’t you? That is the problem with classical music: take a good central-European name and everyone would think “yes, I kind of know that one”. But US nationals are far more related in the public’s imagination with rock (and pop) than classical when it comes to music. Nevertheless, Aaron Copland is considered one of the (if not “the”) best US composers, and was even called “the Dean of American composers”, and his works, specially those of the 1930’s and 40’s, are fundamental in defining a true “American” style of composition, distinctive in its openness and accessibility. The use of popular tunes is another trademark, as in A Lincoln portrait and, as is the case with the use of spoken recitations of the depicted’s own words, while it was not original, Copland took it to new heights.

Continue reading “Ghost from war past: The Portrait by Aaron Copland”

The Teahouse of the August Moon and American Perceptions of Okinawa

The Teahouse of the August Moon satirises both American and Japanese culture, drawing upon stereotypes and using them to form the foundations of the film. For example, American actor Marlon Brando plays the leading role of the Okinawan Sakini, and throughout the film he is the point of reference for the audience and the other characters. He draws attention to the differences in culture between the Americans and Okinawans in such a way that it should not be interpreted as offensive – there are just as many stereotypes about one culture as there are for the next. This piece will set out to reveal the American perceptions of Okinawa through the eyes of the main characters in this film. It will draw upon the idea of Okinawa as an outpost and the officers that are on duty; the stereotypical nature of Okinawans and the possible explanation for their want of a teahouse, not a school; the primitive nature of Okinawan life; the colonial assumptions of US reform efforts and the reception that the film received.

The film tells the story of an US Military Captain sent to Tobiki by a stubborn Colonel in Okinawa in order to build a school and teach the village democracy. Sakini, the Japanese-English interpreter narrates the film and acts as the bridge between the Okinawans and the American Occupiers, promising to give the village what they want, not what the Americans think they ought to have. Stereotypes are drawn upon in the form of a rowdy, loud mouthed American Colonel, the calm, child-like Okinawans and a geisha whom the Captain initially believes to be a prostitute – a common misconception made by Europeans and Americans alike. The moral of the film, looking beyond the stereotype, is one of acceptance – the American Captain has accepted that the Okinawans know what they want for themselves, more so than the Americans do, and the Okinawans have accepted that while the Americans are occupying their land, they may as well try make something out of it.

We are first introduced to Sakini, the interpreter, at the beginning of the film where he begins the tale of the teahouse. Immediately, Okinawan perceptions are addressed and contrasted with those of America and the result is rather entertaining. He reveals that certain things acceptable in one country are not in another, i.e. in Okinawa, they do not have locks on their doors as it could be perceived to be bad manners not to trust their neighbour, however, the lock and key business is a big industry in America and therefore concludes that bad manners equal good business. We see this throughout the film, epitomised by Captain Fisby. Fisby is too similar to the Okinawans to be able to ever have a considerable amount of control over them; he is too polite therefore, he is not a good businessman. Purdy however is the complete opposite of Fisby and the exemplary American Colonel stereotype – he thinks he is right, even if he is proven wrong. For example, a scene in the film sees Sakini explain that Tobiki is at the top of Okinawa, Purdy believes it to be at the bottom and retrieves a map to boisterously prove his point. Sakini glances at the map and immediately points out that it is upside down; Purdy then blames the army for not making a proper map, refusing to believe his logic is flawed.

The author of the book The Teahouse of the August Moon, Vern Sneider, was a member of the US military team that landed in Okinawa in 1945 and he became leader of the village of Tobaru (changed to Tobiki in the novel). It would appear that Sneider is taking advantage of his first hand experience within the occupied territory and trivialising common stereotypes in order to try to neutralise feelings towards both cultures. Published in 1951, only six years after the end of the war and the beginning of the Occupation, the feelings that were characterised in the film were still very much felt amongst Okinawans and Americans. Historian Andrew Gordon goes further and states that ‘in creating a public memory, mainstream historians likewise produced a homogenous version of a Japanese past that left out those on the margins (women, atom bomb victims, Burakumin, Okinawans), who in turn were prompted to write their own separate histories.’[1] For this reason, ‘as a satire and comedy, The Teahouse of the August Moon, like many memoirs and articles written by Occupationers, served to soften and minimise the cold, hard fact of Occupation.’[2] This leads back to the colonial attitudes of the American occupiers. They (Colonel Purdy) failed to see past the stereotypical Japanese society, and instead dryly emphasises them.

One stereotype drawn upon due to the colonial assumptions made by the US military, and in fact the majority of western civilisation, is that the Geisha are prostitutes. Geisha originated from oiran in the Edo period when prostitution was legal. However, after the Meiji Restoration, the government decided that there should be a divide between Geishas and prostitutes, as the former was not to be sullied by associating with the latter. Furthermore, confusion was heightened when ‘geisha girls’ were known to be engaging in prostitution, dressing like a Geisha and having sexual relations with the allied forces in Occupied Japan – the westerners could not tell the difference between the imitated and the real, henceforth, their modern misrepresentation. In the film, Captain Fisby is all too familiar with this misrepresentation, and assumes that the Geisha, Lotus Blossom, is trying to engage in sexual activity, when all she wanted to do was to help him put on his kimono. Sakini at this point corrects Fisby’s notion of prostitution and explains the Geisha in a simple, yet effective way; ‘Poor man like to feel rich, rich man like to feel wise. Sad man like to feel happy, so all go to Geisha house, and tell troubles to Geisha girl’[3]. She is there to entertain, to sing, recite verse, play a musical instrument and dance – to help the man forget his troubles.

Naoko Shibusawa states that The Teahouse of the August Moon ‘satirized the Occupation and presented a more ambiguous view about who should be in charge and who should be teaching whom, it depicts the Okinawans as childlike, hard-working people who squabble about trifling matters, trivialize the meaning of democracy, and care most about creating a teahouse for their amusement’. The Okinawans are presented as a simple folk, arguing about matters that to any other would seem trivial, for example, Lotus Blossom is unwelcome in the village as the other female inhabitants feel like she is competition and will get more attention than they do. Fisby agrees to let Lotus Blossom teach the other women to be Geisha’s and to do so, it would only seem fair that they had a teahouse to be able to celebrate and practice their lessons. Fisby reluctantly concedes and the idea of a school and teaching democracy is forgotten, after all, in a town where the majority of the population is adults, why is there a need for a school? However, ironically, the Okinawans have no need for democracy because the US army is occupying their lands, undemocratically giving out orders. When there is need for democracy, their primitive and traditional ways lead them in the right direction.

The primitive nature that the Okinawans adopt in the film, reflect the animalistic methods used by Colonel Purdy. It could have been that as the same attributes were shared between both population and Colonel, that he was the only man for the job. Other factors to consider are that as Okinawa was seen as an outpost far from the mainland and the capital Tokyo where there were not enough officers, Purdy is possibly too stupid to be given a post anywhere else in Japan.

To conclude, the film was a success and was nominated for six Golden Globe awards. It set out to be a satirical comedy focusing on the perceptions of Americans and Okinawans of each other and I believe it achieved its aims. There have been critics who have fought against this satire, for example Bosley Crowther suggests that ‘as the American captain who gets completely enmeshed in the seductive toils of a Okinawan village when he tries to subdue it to the useful and the good, throws himself into this enjoyment with such grinning and grotesque gusto that one gets the uneasy feeling that his captain is mildly mad.’[4] It would appear that Crowther takes the side of the steadfast Colonel in that Okinawans need to be taught democracy and as they lost the war, they need to listen to those who won. How can it be that America deem another societies ways inept because they do not need democracy or technology to live, just culture and street-wise survival instinct.

[1] Andrew Gordon, Postwar Japan as History (Los Angeles, 1993), 462.

[2] Naoko Shibusawa, America’s Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy (Harvard University Press, 2010), 262.

[3] The Teahouse of the August Moon, Daniel Mann, MGM, (1956).

[4] B. Crowther, ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’, The New York Times, 30th November 1956.

The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: November 1969- June 1971

For this week’s blog post I am going to be talking about the occupation of the Island of Alcatraz in 1969 by group of Native American Indians known collectively as the Indians of All Tribes. Located offshore from San Francisco Bay California, this historical island is most recognised as a dangerous and tough prison for inmates to complete their sentences in. As a result of the nineteen months that the occupation lasted from November 1969, the Island’s history would change dramatically as the Island quickly became the centre of American and international news. I therefore aim to cover the events of the 1969 occupation and the two earlier short occupations on March 1964 and November 9th 1969, and to put the occupations into context of both wider Native American issues and the American political and social scene during the mid-twentieth century.

We can almost see a build up to events of November 20th 1969 during the events of the same decade. The first occupation of Alcatraz Island, carried out by five Sioux American Indians led by Richard McKenzie began on March 9th 1964 and only lasted four hours. The penitentiary had been closed since 1963 and the Federal Government was in the process of transferring the island to the city of San Francisco for development. The Sioux Indians leading the occupation believed that they had found a provision within the 1868 Sioux Treaty that stated that all Federal land which became unused would revert back to the ownership of the Sioux people. As Alcatraz was one such site, the Native Indians saw they had a right to the land. However, after four hours the five Sioux Indians left the island peacefully. As a result of the 1964 occupation, the island was re-occupied briefly again on November 9th 1969 for one night. For the occupation a boat carried Richard Oakes (Mohawk), Jim Vaughn (Cherokee), Joe Bill (Eskimo), Ross Harden (Ho-Chunk) and Jerry Hatch close to the island. Then the men jumped overboard, swam to shore, and claimed the island by right of discovery. Despite the Coast Guard quickly removing the five men, later on that day, a larger group of fourteen people made their way to the island. The next day, the group proclaimed the island by right of discovery and then they left the island. Plans were set and on November 20th 1969 the major occupation began under the unofficial leadership of Richard Oakes and his family.

Around 79 American Indians landed on the Island on the 20th, passing an attempted Coast Guard blockade and set about forming councils within the group to decide their next move. The group consisted mainly of students but also included families with children. The Indians, represented increasingly in the media by Richard Oakes also release the Alcatraz Proclamation, stating the terms to which they would buy the island and use it as a symbol for the world to see how the American Indian had suffered. (A Link to the Proclamation is at the end of the blog). By the end of 1969 however, the organisation on the island was in disarray, as two groups rose in opposition against Richard Oakes and there was also the issue that many students left to return to school. As support grew for the American Indians on the island, non-Indians, mainly part of the hippie culture, move onto the island bringing with them alcohol and drugs. The Oakes family also left during this time as they suffered a terrible tragedy as their daughter, whilst playing in one the prison structures, fell to her death.

The departure of the Oakes family however did not diminish the resistance of the occupying group. The Indians received a great deal of support from both on a local level and a national level. The occupation brought together Indian people from across the United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico and South America. During 1970 the Indian of All Tribes (IAT) were entrenched on the island and demanded nothing less than the full title to the island, the establishment of a university and the construction of a cultural centre on the island from the government. In response to this, the government proposed a $50,000 urban planning grant as an enticement for leaving the island. The Indians refused and negotiations broke down. It is worth noting that the money was given to the Bay Area Native American Council after the negotiations broke down. [1] On the island in the meanwhile, the government shut off the electrical power and removed the water barge which had provided fresh water to the occupiers. A fire too broke out and destroyed the warden’s home, the lighthouse and the doctor’s home. ‘The occupation continued at a slow pace, both sides now in a retrenched position, the Indians living a harsh life, no heat or electrical power … Alcatraz Island reminded them of a reservation.’ [2] As the government became increasingly frustrated by the occupation and public support decline, it came the time on June 10th 1971 to end the occupation. Federal agents, FBI agents and Special Forces police swarmed the island and peacefully removed five women, four children and six unarmed Indian men. The occupation had ended.

In context, the occupation of Alcatraz Island can undoubtedly be seen as justified because of the treatment of Native American Indians over the course of a 300-400 year period. From the beginning of early European and American colonisation of America, Native American Indians had slowly been pushed westwards as land was needed for the white settlers. It had got to the point where Indians were forced onto reserves of land and forced to live on the margins of society. Arriving into the twentieth century the reservation policy was changed to a policy of relocation. During the 1950s 100,000 American Indians were moved into urban areas as the reserve land (under House Resolution 108 Bill) was made available for development. The government promised a better life that never arrived. Employment help never came and racism against American Indians became more evident and dangerous. In the wider context the rise of the Native American voice also came as many other groups, force to the edge and bottom of society, increasing protested and fought for equal rights. The Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, and the rise of LaRaza (a Hispanic Movement) to name a few were also sweeping the American nation, particularly at colleges.

To conclude, whilst the occupation did not fulfil its main aims presented to the government it was not a total failure. In many respects it allowed the underlying goal to be established and worked towards over the future. The goal was to ‘awaken the American public to the reality of the plight of the First Americans and to assert the need for Indian Self-determination.’ [3] As a result of the occupation, the American Government ended the policy of termination and Indians found themselves increasingly involved in government departments that affected American Indians. Indian education was also expanded, the notable example being Navajo Community College the first college in America planned, developed and operated by and for Indians was established. Though the occupation of Alcatraz Island was a key historic moment for Native American activism and self-determination, there were still battles that needed to be fought if American Indians were to truly be equal.

[1] Troy Johnson., ‘The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Roots of American Indian Activism’ Wicazzo Sa Review, 10 (1994), 71.
[2]Ibid., 73.
[3]Ibid., 75.

-Troy Johnson., ‘The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Roots of American Indian Activism’ Wicazzo Sa Review, 10 (1994).
-Clara Sue Kidwell & Alan Velie., Native American Studies (Edinburgh, 2005).
-This site has the Alcatraz Proclamation on and is defiantly worth a read;

The Amish: a growing minority.

This month’s topic about minorities has been interesting in that it allows me to recapture a visit to an Amish farm in Nappanee, Indiana, when visiting the United States last year. The Amish are a rather private group and so the visit, which was led by an Amish tour guide, was an intriguing look into a very different lifestyle to the one many of us live in today. They speak in Pennsylvanian German, which can sometimes be referred to as Pennsylvanian Dutch.

The Amish are a fascinating group of people who are considered a minority in this world. Despite European origins, there are around 165 000 Amish people in the United States and 1500 in Canada, with numbers increasing since the beginning of the twentieth century. This group of people are a minority because of their religious beliefs rather than because of their ethnic background. They are part of the Mennonite Church, which is a subgroup of the Christian Church. The Amish Church was set up because of a schism in Switzerland in a contest between the Swiss and the Alsation Anabaptists in 1693.  The Amish were not the only result of these contests, with the Hutterites and Mennonities also being descent from the Anabaptist movement throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jakob Ammann was the leader of the Alsation Anabaptists during this time and so the people who chose to follow him became known as the Amish.

The Amish are particularly religious and have strict rules regarding baptism and marriage. Usually, baptism is done between the ages of 16 and 25, you are not an official member of the Amish community until you are baptised. It is a requirement for both people within a marriage to be baptised and of the same faith for the marriage to go ahead. There is no Church for the Amish religion; they instead meet in a member’s home in order for their services to be carried out. They must follow the Church rules at all times. This includes no electricity, televisions, mobile phones, cars and some types of clothing. There is also no participation in military service, nor participate in social security. They very much choose to live outside of modern-day society. Those which are unable to follow these rules are expected to excommunicate and are likely to be shunned by their family and friends. Around 90% of Amish teenagers do commit to the faith. There is a definite willingness to remain separate from the English-speaking world, and there is a very heavy influence on the importance of Church and family relationships. Formal education is stopped at the age of 13-14 where a more rural life will then generally be accepted.

In todays’ society, the Amish can often be treated with hostility because of their alternative lifestyle. There is constant pressure for them to partake in modern-day things such as taxation, education and law and its enforcement. Some Amish communities choose to educate their own children in small schools run by an unmarried female within the community. It is extremely unusual for a pupil go to college or university. They choose to use horses and carts as transportation and therefore pay no road tax and because of their beliefs, the United States government exempts them from any kind of social security tax as it is something that they do not believe in.

When visiting the farm, it was clear how self-sufficient these communities are. Their houses were simple, yet clean and sufficient. They made their own cheeses and raised their own animals for meat. There were shops selling home-made fudge and ice-cream. In many ways, the whole experience was rewarding in that it really did allow for us to be reminded of moral values, the importance of family, and the rewards that could be gained from hard work. Furthermore, it was inspiring to see how people live without the modern goods we all consider a necessity in everyday life.  It proves that people today rely too much on their mobile phones, cars, computers and many other accessories and actually, they need none of that to live a happy life. People say today that moral standards and values are slipping; it is in this way that the Amish could provide some inspiration for today’s society.

President Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, 1929-1933.

The economic boom of the 1920s, the result of a thirty-year industrial revolution, was destined to weaken the economy long-term. There were massive technological changes and the 1920s was a period of great innovation. Automatic switchboards, conveyor belts and the concrete mixer were just a few examples of the new products that were available to use and to purchase within the economy. The most successful venture was the of conventional use of electricity; it provided a cheaper and more efficient source of power for factories and also led to the production of new consumer goods such as the refrigerator and radios. However, these new techniques meant that goods could be produced more cheaply and on a much larger scale such as Henry Ford’s car industry after introducing the assembly line, however, this meant that as everyone who could afford a car had brought one, the consumer demand decreased and over-production became problematic. This lead to unsold goods, which in turn saw profits falling. With no profit, staff were made redundant and unemployment began to rise. A short-term cause of the Great Depression was credit. Even though it made circumstances easier for consumers to buy goods, many did not have enough money to pay back the banks what they owed. This meant that when the depression did hit in October of 1929, Americans would rush to the bank where they had deposited all of their life savings only to find that there was not enough money for them to make a withdrawal. From 1930-33, depositors lost $2.5 billion in savings from banks that closed or went bankrupt.

The National output had been cut by half and was now less than in 1915 meaning that ‘boom’ of the 1920s had been lost. Investors lost as much money in October 1929 as the USA had spent fighting in the First World War. If 1920s America was looking bleak before 1929, the Wall Street Crash ensured the last bit of hope that remained was crushed. Over the weekend of 26th and 27th October, stockbrokers who had sold their shares ‘on the margin’ had borrowed money from banks to fund the initial purchasing of said share and the banks were now demanding repayment of their money. To repay the banks, the brokers in turn had to ask their customers for repayments of debts and the only way in which customers could do so, was to sell shares at any price. Panic-stricken brokers and investors sold 16 million shares in one day. Stock prices slumped by $14,000,000 on 29th October. On Wall Street, between 29th October and 13th November, over $30 billion disappeared from the value of the American economy.

President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, believed that the government should not try to manage the economy, strongly highlighting Hoover’s ‘voluntarism’ efforts. He tried to persuade businesses to take action to deal with the economic crisis without the government passing laws to force them to act i.e. not to cut production or lay workers off. When the depression hit, 8 months after his inauguration, Hoover waited 2-3 years – once the American economy was in a dire condition – to finally set up funds and organisations to get the US back on its feet. He authorised $2 billion for the creation of the RFC, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in January 1932 which was intended ‘to make temporary advances to establish industries, railways and financial institutions which cannot otherwise secure credit, and where such advances will stimulate employment’. Similarly the Glass-Steagall Act gave $750 million of government gold reserves as loans to private businesses. Hoover’s most notable attempt to regulate trade was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930. He increased the price on over 20,000 imported goods to record levels with an average of 40% on agricultural and industrial items. This led to most other nations applying the same tariffs on American goods meaning that US exports dropped by half ensuring the depression lasted longer and affected more businesses. The US depression had reached its peak as world trade was practically halted.

The next step in Hoover’s plan was to create the Federal Farm Board, which administered loans and aimed to stabilise prices and to promote the sales of agricultural products. By the end of its first year, the FFB had loaned in excess of $148 million. However, the government’s involvement did not produce many results in the agricultural or business industry and did not solve the problem of unemployment. Hoover established the Emergency Committee for Employment as one of his last attempts to combat the depression, but he gave the committee, limited resources ($47 million) and so on such a small-scale and small budget, it never really had a chance at making a difference. The last memorable demonstration from Hoover was insensitively dealing with the Bonus Army in June 1932. The veterans of the First World War, who were unemployed and as a result their families were hungry, began a march in Washington demanding the payment of a veterans’ bonus approved by Congress in 1924 but to be paid 20 years afterward. The money, in the sum of $3,500,000,000, would clearly provide the much-needed lifeline to the veterans and their families. Congress rejected the 20,000 veterans their proposal to pay the money immediately and in protest, thousands of ‘bonus marchers’ and their families built a home of tents at the nearest Hooverville in Anacosta Flats in Washington and threatened to stay there until the proposal was passed. However, Hoover approved a plan to evict them. One thousand armed soldiers, equipped with tear gas, tanks and machine guns, drove the veterans from the camp and burned it to the ground along with all of their possessions. After this incident, Hoover lost public faith.

Hoover was not successful in combating the depression. A reflection of this was the beginning of ‘Hoovervilles’; the popular name for a town of homeless men who lived in cardboard boxes. The term was coined by publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee, Charles Michaelson named after Hoover. These people lived in shacks, in the worst living conditions possible and had to beg for food. Democrat’s popularised related terms such as the ‘Hoover blanket’; old newspapers used as blankets and the ‘Hoover flag’; an empty pocket turned inside out. After these events, Hoover, who returned unopposed as a Republican candidate was prepared for a defeat as well as the rest of the party. Hoover’s term as President saw the descent of the nation further into depression. He was reluctant to take action until the situation was exceptionally poor and when he did, it was with reluctant implying that any organisation or fund that he set up was to barely get below the surface of the problem as he had no confidence. This would suggest that he was not totally dedicated to bringing the USA out of the depression; an attribute that the next elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt was passionate about. However, some historians argue that while Hoover was not successful, he should not be labelled as a ‘do-nothing’ president. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation for example, was adopted by Roosevelt in the New Deal and was successful because of the massive scale and funding that went into it.

When discussing unemployment and business, Hoover’s actions can be seen as ‘too little and too late’. His handling of unemployment was a disaster, and not to mention ineffective; while millions of Americans were starving and left homeless, Hoover refused to take extensive government measures in response. Instead he upheld his firm belief in laissez-faire; the minimum input on the governments’ behalf and voluntarism; businesses to take action alone in order to deal with the economic crisis without the passing of any laws forcing them to act. The deciding factor of Hoover’s defeat and unpopularity was the way in which he dealt with the Bonus Army (The Shame of Anacosta Flats). America did not see Hoover as a compassionate leader in touch with their needs, who would lead them out of the depression. Instead, they saw failure.

Hoover’s time in office led the USA to desire someone new and passionate. They demanded an intelligent and effective government to revive the failing economy; a president who would be active and representative of his people – far from the Republicans of the 1920s. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and would later become one of the most successful and passionate presidents America had seen. Roosevelt promised the New Deal, which in effect was the RFC authorised by Hoover, but on a much larger and more ambitious scale; what America needed during their time of need. This would help the economy in a much more effective way, and as the President connected with the people in a more personal way, the public finally felt that a political figure understood the extent of the damage and was not going to give up.

American land policy on the American-Indian Frontier

In this week’s blog update I am going to discuss the policy of the United States towards the Indians of North America in the years around and after the American Revolution or American War of Independence 1775-1783. America by this stage was made up of colonies belonging to various European states such Great Britain, Spain, and France neighboured by numerous Indian Tribes that generally had a good, if at times unstable relationship. As the Anglo-American colonies started to break away and revolt against the British, the Indians were also brought increasingly into conflict with the two sides. Whilst the American’s wanted the tribes to stay neutral, the British were actively encouraging tribes to raid settlements along the American Frontier.  Most tribes joined the British as they saw the Empire as a lesser of two evils, who could hold back the growing tide of settlement advances on Indian land. However the American’s won their independence and as a result the Indians would need to deal with the new American government in the hope of controlling the settlement plan.

The settlement policy for American Indian land had for the previous century been that of purchase by the imperial government for the land from the Indian nation that it belonged to. It was generally agreed that the land in North America was held by the American Indians and only to be acquired if the it was rightfully sold to a buyer. However there were ways around this such as private land buying that went past the government and went directly to the Indian land seller. In 1763 under the British represented government a law had been brought through that banned the purchasing of land by private buyers. This view was held until the ending of the American War of Independence when it became a symbol of British oppression and halted the expansion of settlement into west America. In the eyes of the American colonies the American Indians were defeated alongside the British and their land would be taken as reparations. As the colonists were no longer bound by the 1763 proclamation they could buy land privately, though the ideas concerning the Indian land ownership were being hotly debated. It was stated that if the land became government held then the speculators (private buyers) would have nothing to buy. Whereas if the land could be directly bought from the Indians, it could be bought cheaper and quicker than if the government intervened.

This pattern continued through most of the 1780s due to the political climate and speculators high influence within the various states government. The first few years after the Revolution would proof difficult for the various Indian tribes who saw their land confiscated for their part in a war that they wanted no part of. The land had been confiscated but still needed to be bought to claim ownership. The settlers had to an extent always wanted to take the land from the Indians and the result of the American war could justify the taking of land as compensation. The war against the British had been, if not more so a war against the American Indians and the ‘goal of freedom from British rule could be superseded by the goal of freedom to settle on Indian land.’ [1] The push for more land and expansion in the American west was pressuring many to follow the needs of speculators to buy up land at cheap prices and then resell it to settlers at a profit. The pre-constitution government was too weak to stop any of the private buying from going ahead; ‘The Revolution contributed to the new land policy … by giving birth to new units of American government that were desperately short of cash, by increasing the political power of land speculators and western settlers, and by removing the restraining hand of the imperial government’. [2]

This is not to say that the Indians did not want to sell parts of their land. For many the trade of parts of their land in exchange for supplies and mechanical and agricultural expertise was a fair one. In most exchanges however this was not the case. Indians were often left without their goods or were undervalued hugely for how much the land was actually worth. The aggressive land policy from 1784 to 1786 did not help the relations between the colonists and the American Indians. For example the treaties for the land were often forcibly signed and in many cases the private buyers would seek out any member of the tribe and buy the land, regardless of the position in the American Indian nation’s hierarchy. It was near impossible for the boundaries between the American settlers and the American Indian nations to be kept to as settlers moved in Indian lands without permission and caused further problems.

There was an attempt in 1787 to again remove the private buyers from the equation as the expansion into Indian lands was gaining the attention of the government. As they saw it, it would be both cheaper and safer to buy the lands gradually from the Indians than expand quickly and risk open war. The British were still present in America (mainly in Canada) and should the American Indians head for war, the British would surely join in. The 1787 proclamation therefore made it law that land could only be purchased from the American Indians through the American government. However again the western advancement took priority and the American Indian’s land was slowly but surely bought by the settlers. In the 1790s it would seem that the new American government was doing what the speculators were doing but on a larger scale. Land was being bought up quickly by the American settlers, with the American Indians being forced into tighter spaces with less useable land and less hunting space.

The American land policy towards the American Indian’s can therefore be seen as a continuous westward expansion that took into regard the ownership of land but not its value or worth to the native population. Laws and proclamations were passed with little effect as land was being sold quickly to feed the settlement that moved further west from the eastern states. The land purchases appear to have been successful despite all the damage that they caused. There were just enough land purchases at a time to keep most settlers content whilst not causing war with the American Indians. However, ultimately the American Indians were the groups to lose in the long run, not only did they find themselves being forced out of their lands but there appeared to be no solution to stop the growing tide of American and European settlement.

[1] Stuart Banner How the Indians lost their land (Harvard, 2005) p122

[2] Ibid., 113


Stuart Banner How the Indians lost their land (Harvard, 2005)

Angie Debo A History of the Indians of the United States (Oklahoma Press, 1970)