National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

This eclectic museum brings the African American experience to life, but some sections are definitely not suitable for children.

As a fan of both history and wax museums, I was thrilled to discover this museum in Baltimore’s struggling northeastern neighborhood of Oliver. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum features over 150 life-sized wax figures representing a range of personalities from African American history, as well as a few ancient ones as well.

The museum’s depiction of ancient history is, for lack of a better word, imaginative. In the entryway, a large figure of a dark-skinned Hannibal the Great sits on a war elephant. Hannibal, a Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans circa 218 BC, was ethnically Phoenician, not from Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, the museum depicts Egyptian pharaohs as black when they were actually Middle Eastern in origin. Some even had red hair.

Perhaps the most controversial exhibits have to do with the Atlantic slave trade, lynching, and racism. It’s estimated 12 to 12.8 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years under horrible conditions. The wax exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination.

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Father Divine, Conspicuous Consumption, and Racial Harmony

During the Great Depression, “Father Divine” urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking and a shared banquet table.

In American culture, ideals of health and prosperity have long been intertwined with food. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the ability to eat what one wanted and when that defined an American family’s assent into the growing middle class. It was no accident that during the 1930s a man appeared offering salvation through the act of eating.

George Baker, Jr., or “Father Divine”, professed himself to be God incarnate. He urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message successfully crossed racial barriers because he appealed to cultural traditions common to all Americans, traditions like conspicuous consumption, Charismatic Christianity, and the Protestant work ethic.

As historian Jill Watts eloquently put it, he “provided a theology that promised a better life and a brighter future to anyone, regardless of economic status. Father Divine personified the Horatio Alger myth, and his success proved that even for blacks, America was a land of opportunity.”[1] Food, a symbol of prosperity, was the unifying commodity he used to actualize that myth.

The ready availability of food, dolled out by his hands, literally demonstrated that he could give his followers a piece of the American pie. He consciously used the act of sharing food between peoples―a long tradition in American history―to realize his dream of racial harmony. “I have a-plenty to eat, to drink and to wear, and I have plenty of automobiles to ride in; comfort and convenience for you and ME!” was a common boast, and promise, from Father Divine.[2]

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Father Divine: The Man Who Called Himself God

At a time when scarcity affected millions, one eccentric preacher offered men and women a taste of the American dream.

During the 1930s, a man appeared in America offering salvation through the simple act of eating. “Father Divine”, professing himself to be God incarnate, urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message crossed racial lines because he appealed to shared traditions in American culture. This eccentric preacher offered Americans, both black and white, rich and poor, hope that racial unity and personal perfection could be achieved through the union of religion and the dinner table.

Father Divine began life as George Baker, Jr. in the border state of Maryland less than fifteen years after the Civil War. His mother, Nancy, had been born a slave in the 1840s. Two Catholic masters owned her over the course of her life, Lemuel Clemens and Henry B. Waring. Both required that she attend the Catholic churches they had erected on their respective properties.

In 1864, when Maryland outlawed slavery, Nancy went into service as a maid and already had two daughters by unknown persons. She married a man named George Baker in the 1870s and the two moved into a ghetto outside of Rockville, Maryland known as ‘Monkey Run.’ George Baker, Jr. was born shortly after, in May 1879.[1] Nancy and her family attended Rockville’s Jerusalem Methodist Church, a separatist branch, where, according to historian Jill Watts, “inevitably, the intense spirituality and religious dedication of the African-American community left a deep impression on George.”[2]

His mother died when he was a young man. She was five feet tall and weighed four hundred and eighty pounds. A coffin had to be built inside their house and could only be removed after the doorway had been hastily expanded. Historian R. Marie Griffith theorized that Nancy’s extreme size, acquired after moving to Monkey Run, was a response to the oppressive conditions of slavery she had experienced as a young woman.

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Did the Movie Gettysburg Whitewash Lee’s Army?

As a Civil War buff, director Ron Maxwell’s Gettysburg (1993) is one of my all-time favorite films. For the general public, it is the definitive depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg, an epic three-day struggle between the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia over the fate of the nation. Based on the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, its soundtrack is epic and performances by its cast are top-notch.

The more I read about the battle, however, the less historically accurate the movie appears. Race is one area where Gettysburg falls short. Despite multiple discussions about slavery during the 271 minute run time, only one African American character appears: a runaway slave used as a catalyst for a discussion between Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Sgt. ‘Buster’ Kilrain.

Would you be surprised to learn thousands of enslaved African Americans traveled with the Confederate Army on its invasion of Pennsylvania? Many Southern officers were slaveholders, after all. But by all appearances, the Confederate Army as depicted in Gettysburg was entirely white (the Union Army employed hundreds of freed black laborers at Gettysburg–a fact also omitted from this film).

Of course, slaves would not have appeared in battle scenes, but there were plenty of opportunities when it came to scenes of Confederate encampments and units on the march, where black slaves served a variety of non-combat roles. If the filmmakers were making a genuine effort to be as historically accurate as possible, how could they miss this obvious fact?

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The Real Cost of Campus Hysteria

Ohio jury awards local business over $33 million after false targeting by outraged college students.

In the 1994 satirical comedy PCU, mobs of angry students run down and protest anyone who offends their cause célèbre at the fictional Port Chester University. Way ahead of its time, the film starring Jeremy Piven and David Spade lampooned the burgeoning movement of “political correctness” on college campuses. Today, we might call these PC warriors “Social Justice Warriors”, or SJWs.

While it’s funny to watch angry mobs of college students chase a hapless pre-frosh through campus in a movie, it’s not so hilarious for the real victims of campus activism. Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio recently learned this lesson the hard way after a jury awarded $44 million to  Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery after students and faculty wrongly targeted them for a protest campaign.

In 2016, the store owner’s son, Allyn Gibson, confronted a student he believed was trying to purchase one bottle of wine with a fake ID and steal two bottles stuffed under his shirt. The student ran from the store and Gibson chased after him. Outside, the report alleged, several more students joined the confrontation and physically assaulted Gibson before fleeing the scene. Three students eventually plead guilty to misdemeanors of aggravated trespassing and attempted theft.

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Is Cauliflower Racist?

Culinary partisans can relax; there’s nothing offensive about eating ‘non-native’ foods.

In the latest Bizarro-World controversy, political partisans have taken to the internet to fight over – cauliflower? Yes, really. This bland and ubiquitous vegetable has become the latest front in the Culture Wars, with freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) even claiming ‘people of color’ have a hard time gardening because cauliflower is a colonialist vegetable.

Many people love cauliflower because it’s high in fiber and vitamins and low in calories. I dislike it for the same reason I dislike vanilla ice cream and plain waffles–I need flavor in my life! But because AOC has become clickbait and her name buries every other search result, I haven’t been able to determine where these anti-cauliflower sentiments come from. Is it actually something argued by fringe identitarians, or did AOC just make it up to grab headlines?

In the dumbest video she’s uploaded since pretending to not know what a garbage disposal is, she said:

“But when you really think about it — when someone says that it’s ‘too hard’ to do a green space that grows Yucca instead of, I don’t know, cauliflower or something — what you’re doing is you’re taking a colonial approach to environmentalism. That is why a lot of communities of color get resistant to certain environmentalist movements because they come with the colonial lens on them.”

Essentially, she’s arguing that South and Central Americans living in the Bronx have been brainwashed into growing European foods, rather than something native to hot, dry regions like the Yucca plant. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why it’s easier to grow cauliflower in New York than a desert plant like Yucca. Yucca thrives in a completely different climate.

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Field of Lost Shoes

An emotional tribute to young cadets who fought and died in the American Civil War.

Written by Thomas Farrell and David M. Kennedy and directed by Sean McNamara, Field of Lost Shoes (2014) tells the story of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute who fought at the Battle of New Market during the American Civil War. Despite an obviously low budget and inexperienced cast, the film is charming and emotionally engaging; one of the better Civil War films to be released in recent years.

Robert (Nolan Gould) is a freshman cadet, or “Rat”, who falls in with a tight group of upperclassmen, including John Wise (Luke Benward), an ex-governor’s son, and Moses Ezekiel (Josh Zuckerman), an aspiring sculptor and the first Jewish cadet at VMI. The war forms a backdrop to schoolboy antics like hazing, stealing food from the Institute’s enslaved cook, Old Judge (Keith David), and pursuing a romantic interest with the local girls, including Libby Clinedinst (Mary Mouser).

War comes knocking on their doorstep, however, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant (Tom Skerritt) sends Franz Sigel (Werner Daehn) and Captain Henry A. DuPont (David Arquette) with an army to subdue the Shenandoah Valley. Opposing him with a much smaller force is Confederate general and former U.S. vice president John C. Breckinridge (Jason Isaacs).

Breckinridge badly needs reinforcements, and he reluctantly sends for the VMI cadets, who his battle-hardened veterans regard as nothing more than children playing soldier. Will the cadets get there in time, and more importantly, will they prove their worth on the battlefield?

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