Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Saturday speech (1)

Some have asked me to speak at a rally on Saturday, a gathering of people who oppose the bigoted sentiments that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, let loose last week. This is what I'm going to say.

I find it passing strange that the Native people who gave Iowa its name are long gone from our borders. Today, the Ioway Tribe is headquartered in Kansas and Oklahoma, where many tribal members live, even though the state of Iowa owes its name to them. You might think the Ioways would be revered citizens here; but 180 years ago we legislated their bands out of sight and out of mind when we determined this rich land was worth a whole lot more than they were.

You see, we have a history of prejudice.
The Yankton Sioux had a spacious and wondrous homeland created by governmental treaty. They occupied a triangle whose southern point began where the Big Sioux River flows into the Missouri and generally followed the Big Muddy on its course west and then north through a place that later became the state of South Dakota. All that land just across the river from Hawarden was Yankton territory before it was South Dakota.

But white folks from a dozen or more European countries—and Yankees—determined all of that land was just too blessed wonderful to leave to savage Yanktons. So we took it from them, plain-and-simple. To make our crime legal, we created treaties we never lived by.

I remember being stunned by a Navajo friend of mine who shook his head and giggled when people talked about undocumented workers. “People like me--,” he said, “we know more about illegal immigration than you ever will.” Then he laughed—at us.

Because we wanted what the Ioways had, they're long gone. All they left was their name, which we've simply made ours--like their land.

We have a history of prejudice.

But there’s more to remember from our history, because during World War I, Iowa was the only state in the union to wield a language law.

Elderly women in Scott County were jailed for speaking German over the telephone. A Lutheran pastor was jailed for preaching part of a funeral service for a soldier killed in the war in Swedish because the young man's grandparents did not speak English.

Ninety-nine years ago, Iowa Governor William Harding legitimized prejudice across the state and inflamed the fanaticism that going to war creates by issuing what came to be called “The Babel Proclamation,” the only language law in the United States, prohibiting the use of any foreign language in places where the public gathers.

Even though Harding had been elected by gathering a majority of the German-American vote in the state, he found it impossible to believe that German-speaking Iowans could turn their backs on their own ethnic background. Once upon a time, American business interests recruited German immigrants because those German folks carried with them a propensity for hard work and decent living. But when America’s involvement in World War I began, those same people often were hated, especially when they continued to use the only language some of them knew—German.

In November of 1917, German teachers in Iowa public schools were fired and German-language textbooks were burned. We have a history of prejudice.

A year later, on November 11, 1918, the day that marked the end of World War I, a celebration in Lowden, Iowa, turned nasty, when an angry mob grabbed a local preacher. Here’s the way a woman who witnessed the events described them when she wrote a letter to her sister:

People acted like savages. They came in mobs from towns from miles around and one mob got a minister and made him march through town carrying a flag. They made him stand on a coffin and kiss the flag while a band from a nearby town played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On the coffin was written “The Kaiser—now ruler of Hell.” Then he was ordered out of town.
The Rev. John Reichardt, who served the Zion Evangelical Reformed Church of Lowden, Iowa, did not as required show sufficient hatred of his German heritage. He’d refused to abandon “the language of the enemy.” He was a criminal because he spoke German.

We have a history of prejudice.
Tomorrow, the end.

If you're from Siouxland, consider joining us at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 25, at the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City. Let Steve King know you know what's right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Be careful...

I know of a gentlemen who had severe brain damage as a result of a car accident in the early 1900's. As a result of the injury, he suffered epilepsy, bouts of rage and emotional outbursts. These symptoms were common for this type of injury... He spent a year in a mental hospital.

The stigma of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with the accompanying prejudice and discrimination was overwhelming for him and his family. Back then understanding disability and it's symptoms was akin to believing that the earth was flat. Church people ridiculed him and his family. He threatened the lives of well-intentioned church people with very little empathy or understanding in return. [After-all, this type of behavior was common for pre-frontal brain damage.] Some thought he was demon possessed. He was not allowed to join the church. Not one church elder visited him in the mental hospital. In the recent past his story was published with no mention of his disability. The church knew how to shoot it's wounded.

This man and his family had to learn how to offer GRACE to those who provided prejudice and discrimination instead of Christian love and understanding. Today our understanding of disability and TBI [National Football League concussion research etc.] has helped us to understand that the brain injury world is actually round.